Who Do You Look Up To?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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?


GF Gidget said...

Thank you for sharing that. Your story is painfully beautiful. Thank God for all of the strong women who entered your life, and helped you becomet he woman you are today.
My mom is definitely my role model. She is strong, generous, funny, and the most giving person I have ever met. She and my dad adopted my little sister about 2 years ago. She was 6 years old and stuck in the FL foster care system. My parents had just sent their last child to college and now they have an elementary school age little girl running around between ballet and horseback riding lessons. In addition, my mom just started a new career. She is in her 50's and thriving. She exercises every day and is the energizer bunny. I love her and respect her so much. She is my role model.

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

Oh Ashley, this is so powerful and moving - thank you for sharing how much your mom affected your life; and I love the metaphor of "collecting" role models.

My biggest role models are my parents, hands down. I'm sure that shines through in my blog posts and video posts, haha :-D

Lauren said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. You are so brave and such a lovely soul. I am so happy to know someone like you. My mother, sis and I use to listen to Madonna together as well, and my mother had us in her 20's so she was young mom too (had my bro at 21). She has attempted to take her life as well, but I am lucky enough to say she has failed and is doing better everyday. As for my role models, I would say my grandma has played a huge part in that. Like I've mentioned on my blog, she exercises and is the perfect example of class in everyway. My mother is one of my role models as well, she has been through a lot in her life and still comes out of it strong and brave.

Thank you again for this inspiring post! Lots of love!

Catherine said...

Wow, Ashley, thank you for following your heart and writing that post today. I was so moved. I admire your bravery and strength in being so open about your mother's death, and I can relate to how much you love her, as my mother was my biggest role model for many years.

Tomorrow, Sept. 17, is the anniversary of my mother's death. She committed suicide as well, in 2001 when I was 18 years old. She also had me when she was young (21 years old) and I always felt very close to her, looking up to her, and admiring her strength, integrity, and sensitivity. Since her death, I have had many wonderful role models, such as women who have taken me under their wing, but no one has had the impact on my life that my mother did.

Thank you again for sharing your story, and I am sorry that you had to experience such a huge loss at a young age. You are so inspirational, in more ways than one, and I thank you for including this post among all the others which have given me so much knowledge about health, happiness, and living the best life I can.

Thank you again,

Nicci said...

Thank you for sharing your story Ashley. You truely are an amazing women. You are very blessed to have such strong women help you, along your journey in life. I'm very blessed to have my Mother. My mother was a single Mom & has raised me and my brother on her own. My grandmother also is a strong women who has helped me to grow into the independent women I am today. Thank you for your story.

Unknown said...

This really is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

I seem to collect 'moms' as well -- my mum is a huge role model for me, as well as my best friend's mom.

I think that teacher role-models are very very important as well, I had a number in high school and university that have really shaped who I am today.

Allie said...

Thank you for sharing your story Ash. You continue to inspire me with your strength and courage. How brave of you to open up to all of us.

I have a few role models. My mum had me at a young age too (20) and I spent a lot of time with some very strong women. My aunt is the polar opposite of my mum and together I think they compliment each other; I feel like I'm a bit of each of them. I've also had a few teachers that have played huge roles in my development and I don't know who I'd be without them.

K8 said...

Wow! You truly are even more amazing than I already knew!
Thank you so much for sharing your story and allowing us to look up to you!


LauraA said...

I don't know if I've ever told you before, but I have a wonderful memory of your mom from your birthday party, chatting with me and doing her best to involve shy 6th grade me in the fun. Clearly you are your mother's daughter in this way - you are friendly and welcoming to everyone. I know I would not be the same person today if you had not been my friend and helped me come out of my shell, and so you are someone I've looked up to for a long time now.

Jess said...

Ashley <3 My beautiful friend. I admire your strenght everyday.
It's people like you who I look up to. People who keep going to use their experiences (good and bad) for the better. I am so proud to call you one of my bestest and dearest friend

Crazy Charm said...

Hi there. I found your blog via Meghan at Making Love in the Kitchen a few weeks ago.

I just wanted to say that I think you're quite inspirational yourself :)

jessica said...

What a great post. As others have already mentioned YOU have definitely been an inspiration. Ever since I "met" you and started reading your blog I could see that you were not only a great inspiration in WW but in other aspects of life.
You are such a great person Ash! I'm so glad I met you!! :)

Ashley Gibson said...

Thank you to everyone who commented on this post (here and on facebook) I had no idea when I was writing the post what it was going to turn into. It honestly was prompted by part of my meeting topic two weeks ago. I forget sometimes how many people this blog actually reaches and I am so grateful to each of you who shared such beautiful memories and thoughts.

Cat -- I'm sending lots of love and support your way for tomorrow. I know how hard those types of days can be, but I hope you take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

Lauren -- I am so happy to hear that your mom is doing better each and every day and working past those feelings. Give her a big hug from me the next time you see her. What else do you think we can have in common??

Laura -- Your comment made me cry twice today. Once when I read it and a second time when I was talking to Joey about it. There are only a handful of my friends who ever got to meet my mom, so it's really special for me to know that you have that memory of her. I cherish you as one of my oldest friends and our friendship means so much to me.

And to those of you who said that I am inspirational, I don't even know how to respond to that. I just try to live life to the fullest every day and today really made me realize how lucky I am to be able to do that and share it with all of you xoxo

Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen) said...


AndreaD said...

Ashley!! What an incredibly moving post - I almost cried! Great points and my condolences. You are incredibly beautiful and brave, not to mention a gifted writer! Keep it up!

Nachos said...

Ashley, what an amazing post! Clearly you've poured your heart out here. As far as role models go, you are so modest and don't really seem to grasp how inspirational, influential and respectable you are. I'm sure a lot of people who read this blog see YOU as a role model. One of THEIR role models.

The relationship with your mum is something I wish I'd had - you're fortunate to have experienced it at all and it's obvious that you hold the memory of it so near and dear. I won't go into my story, but like you, I 'collected' role models - they were mostly teachers at school who gave me the support and guidance I couldn't get from my own mum... xx

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