You blink and life fast forwards 16 years. It's quite strange that each year I still write as if I'm trying to find every single thing to say. I wrote in 2013, "Sometimes I think it's time to stop writing about it. It does not define me. Somehow I decide each year I have to share my thoughts or they just sit in my mind spewing around me. Truthfully in my heart I think at times it's just milking every little ounce of anything I have left of her. If I don't write, if I don't think, will she forever be gone? Will anyone remember her? I get angry with myself when I cannot remember things. She was with me for 19 years, yet my mind blocks these parts out and she becomes this figure just standing in my imagination. She is no longer real this way and it is quite easy. Then I will dream of her and she is real again. I will hear a story that makes me remember her." This is why I write even when the fast forward key seems stuck on my old jambox.
This year the thing that kept coming to mind is that time of life. It hits me now when I am 16 years older, the truth. My mother passed suddenly on a Monday. I was back in college the next Monday. There were no questions asked, I was back. At the time people said it was strength. No, it was nothing like this. It was pure shock. When you are in the middle of a storm you aren't thinking about anything but survival. I was in such shock that I shut down. If you know me, when tragedy hits I don't cry. I've been to 26 funerals. I know a lot of people. I love a lot of people. But, I have a weird survival skill in that I ice up and brave the cold. It hits me later when I am alone and am able to deal with it myself. Oh, it's not a good thing. It's great to be strong; it's another to be icy. I've written many times about my ice melting. Back to that time of life... My dad is a true superhero. He took on this grief and he could have taken me in to stay with him for months to grieve together. No, he let his teenager daughter go back to live her life. He dealt with things in his own way. I so badly wanted to be so strong for him that when he would bring Mom up, I remember telling him we had to move on. I would do anything to protect him from feeling that pain, but I couldn't understand his pain of losing a wife. I only knew my own pain. And at that moment it was so blind, I was in such shock that I could feel nothing. We all change in 16 years. If the Julie today was this Julie at 19 she would have stayed home to protect the world, or so she thought. I would have tried to do all of the business things, clean out her closet and hide her purse so no one got sad when they saw it. Everyone did these things for me because they are the real superheroes.
You look back at being 19 and stare at the 35 year old in the mirror. Now I have my own son so I understand the love my mother had for me. I always said there was no way I could be as good as her. She was this pure woman that just "had it." She had this wit, this love, this zane for life. She was a legendary teacher whom everyone loved. Julie Adams Gray is none of that in my mind. Then it hit me one day with Walker. She did her best with me just like I am doing my best with him. Sometimes I hear something she would say and I laugh to myself as it comes out of my own mouth. I have the same deep love she had and I share him with the world just like she shared me with all her students. The problem is we figure this out at 35 instead of 19. All of the days I shut my door after dinner and watched TV in my bedroom or talked on the phone all night being a teenager... All of the days I rolled my eyes and told my mother she was nerdy...
Again, that time of life. It pulls at me now that she was a young 48. I didn't understand that was young until a few years ago. People don't pass of heart attacks at 48. It doesn't seem normal. It's like a freak tornado in the dead of winter. It happens, but it's just so few and far between that we don't usually register it. You see, it's no longer about grief, but about what happens after that storm. You're no longer in the middle. As I get older it's a lot about recognizing who Mom was as a person instead of just "Julie's mom." It's about wondering how people pass at young ages from strange things. It's about looking back in awe at all that has unfolded in those 16 years. You never thought God could bless you and all the superheroes around you with such a life. Life is always on the fastest speed. It's stuck. Spend some time watching a stupid show you don't want to with loved ones. Send your mom flowers for putting up with you in the teenager years. Sit and talk to your grandmother about her days on the farm to see the sparkle in her eyes as she rehashes the good old days. These are the things that matter. I don't take loved ones for granted. I might not be the best at telling them aloud how much they mean to me, but I can do it in my own way of writing. You blink and the fast forward button catapults you into another decade. Hold tight.