Growing up I always looked up to my mom, but what little girl doesn’t?
My mom was only 22 when she had me and in my mind she was always so young and hip. I remember bopping around to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and watching my mum in awe. We were always incredibly close and in December 1993 she wrote in her journal “I’ll be glad when Ashley is grown up. She is a very open child and I feel very close to her, maybe she’ll be the one I will open my whole heart to. Time will tell”. I wonder if she looked up to me then for my ability to talk about my feelings and emotions.
When my mum died, a lot of things changed for me. I learned a lot about her and her struggles in those last few days and I feel like I grew up overnight. The women that I looked up to changed so much in the span of 48 hours and I had no choice but to find a new role model for my 13 year old self.
I was incredibly lucky to have an amazing guidance counsellor in junior high. We had met in the 7th grade when I was brand new to the school. We bonded instantly because it was her first year as well. The year my mum died, I spent a lot of time in her office talking, crying and working to figure things out. I was so lucky to have such a great support system, because given the situation, I really believe my life could have taken a different path.
On my first day of drama in high school, we played a game where we had to stand in a line and shout out different facts about ourselves. One such fact was our birthdays. When it was my turn I called out April 8th to which the teacher (Kathy) replied “That’s my birthday too”. We had an instant connection that grow over the the next 4 years as she came to call me her third daughter. Not only was she was a fantastic drama teacher, she really was a surrogate mother to me in those years. I assisted in her classes, spent time with her before and after school, and consulted her on my decision to attend musical theatre school after OAC. Kathy was my biggest cheerleader, but was also there during the more challenging times. I am eternally grateful for all the love and encouragement she provided me in those years.
In my final year of high school, I was the assistant manager for a local children’s choir and it was there that I met my dear friend Charis. Her daughter Zoe was in the choir and Charis was on the Board of Directors. I can’t exactly remember how it came to be, but I began spending more time with Charis and Zoe outside of choir. We would go out for lunch together and go on shopping trips together. When they found out that my family didn’t have a big Christmas ritual, Charis invited me to spend Christmas with the two of them. I remember going over to their house with small presents for them and spending a wonderful afternoon around the tree enjoying good food and feeling like I was a part of their family. I loved the sense of security and “normalcy” that Christmas had and this tradition continued every year after. In the last couple of years Charis has gone away to Newfoundland each summer and I miss her so much while she’s gone. She is coming back at the beginning of October and I really look forward to catching up. She is such a strong woman and her daughter is such a bright, talented gal and I love having them as a part of my extended family.
While some people collect Barbie dolls or trading cards, in the years that followed my mum’s death, I began collecting role models. Each of the women mentioned in this post have played such a huge part in my development and I know that I was blessed to meet them and have them in my life. Since high school I have “collected” other role models including those in my work, acting, weight loss journey and healing who continue to play an incredibly important role in my life.
I think it is integral to have people you look up to. While I don’t suggest that you follow that person’s path exactly nor do I expect you to turn to them for guidance with every decision, you can look to them for support and knowledge and apply their philosophy or life strategies in ways that are a good fit for your life. I believe that we all have the ability to choose our own destiny. That being said, I also think that the universe gives us the tools and influences we need to get there, including the people to guide us along the way. I know that these people were put in my life for a reason, but it was up to me to find them and let them in.
I don’t think I’ve ever alluded to the fact that my mother’s death was a suicide on the blog. I know that there were a lot of contributing factors and outside influences, but her death was at her own hand. I look back to that journal entry from ‘93 and wish that my mum would have sooner found the courage to open up to me or someone else. I don’t know that things would have necessarily turned out any differently, but it might have given me more time with her.
It’s been more than 10 years, but I think about my mum every day and there are countless moments when I wish she was still here to give me encouragement, inspiration, love and a shoulder to cry on. I wonder what my life would be like and what kind of person I would have become if things had been different. In her absence, I am grateful for my role models, as they have helped me to become the woman I am today.
And now for the question that started this all off…
Who do you look up to?