Smile, Open Your Eyes, Love and Go On

Friday, February 24, 2012

14 years ago, on February 24, 1998 at about 8:00 in the morning I was sitting next to my mother’s body, begging something bigger and more powerful than me to bring her back to life. I held her and hugged her and hoped and prayed and did everything I could possibly think of to keep her with me. The events of the 24 hours prior played out in my brain repeatedly and I found myself crying out of sadness and despair and guilt for not telling her that I loved her before I went to sleep the night before. No one responded to my wishes and she didn’t wake up. My mum was taken to the hospital and about an hour later my grandmother got the call to say that she was gone.

On February 25, 1998, I went to school. I was in the 8th grade and I went to the office when I arrived to give them a note and inform them that I had been absent on the day prior because my mother had died. While I was sitting in my first period class, I was called down to the principal’s office during homeroom and he asked me what I was doing at school. I told him that I didn’t know where else to be. I didn’t want to be at home, because we were staying with friends and I felt out of place. I didn’t want to be making arrangements for my mother’s funeral and I didn’t want to be left alone anywhere with my thoughts. School gave me a distraction and a great support system. I had a wonderful guidance counsellor, a fabulous homeroom teacher and a great group of friends. I knew where I needed to be, and if it was okay with him, I intended to stay.

It’s been 14 years since my mum died, and I’ve spent the last 5,110 days trying to figure this whole thing out. I am the person I am because my mum took her own life 2 months before my 14th birthday. And somehow, most of the time I manage to be pretty okay.

I think when something tragic happens to a person, you can go one of two ways: you can wallow in it or you can rise above it. I’ve always been one to rise above. In the years that followed my mum’s death, I went to counselling, talked openly about what had happened and in some ways distanced myself from other family members who were stuck in their grief, sadness and blame. I miss her every day and feel sad for all the experiences we won’t share, but I haven’t let it hold me back from the life I  have wanted to live. Her death inspired me to live life to its fullest potential and in the last 14 years I’ve done everything in my ability to do just that.

I work really hard to keep that spirit alive in me, but every year come February I watch that strength start to crumble. As the day approaches that sadness builds up and I never really know how it’s going to manifest itself within me. I’ve been coping with my mother’s death for a longer period of time than I got to enjoy her life and I’ve realized that it doesn’t ever get easier. I’ve spent a lot of this week trying to keep my shit together so I could go on with my regular life, but have found myself locked in bathroom stalls sobbing or crying myself to sleep more than once. It’s exhausting. And hard. But I know I’ll get past this too.

“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

~ David Harkins

Today will be tough, but I know that tomorrow I will wake up and I will be finished with February 24th for another year. I have plans in the next 24 hours to see some of my very favourite people and I’m going to allow myself to feel whatever it is that I feel. It’s likely that I will cry, but I’ll probably smile too, because I know that that’s what she would have wanted to see.



VeganLisa said...

Love you Ashley.

Lidia said...

Oh Ashley, what a moving post, I wish I could hug you. I admire your bravery. It takes a strong little girl to keep going on and it takes an even stronger adult to maintain it.

Lauren said...

This brought tears to my eyes. You are so strong, brave and amazing.

Hila said...

you're a rock, ashley - and a wonderful writer

Unknown said...

What a beautiful post. You are so brave to be able to write this. Even as time passes, it's something that will live with you forever. It really puts everything in perspective sometimes reading things like this. x

@JosephRanseth said...

You're all sorts of inspiration. So glad you let your light shine.

The Dose of Reality said...

As someone who recently went through the first year of not having a mother, I can't imagine being 14 years in. I am so sorry. Beautiful post. So heartfelt and honest and real. Thank you for sharing it.

Sara D. said...

Thinking of you Ashley - you continue to show strength and vision, even when the view is bleak. Keep finding the joy you always have been able to uncover and create. xo Sara (aka Ms. D.) xoxo

Brenda said...

Ashley: I think what you wrote is amazing, powerful, and your honesty heartfelt. I wish I had the words to respond... I don't, I go numb with questions, year after year... I miss and think of her often, and sometimes the questions I have are directed towards myself, if only x's 100... you held her, you prayed and she didn't come back... I often ask myself if only I said, or seen or did somethings different maybe she wouldn't have gone... during that time in your Mothers life she was with friends and doing things I didn't fancy being apart so like many other times we pulled away for awhile... I never thought it would be goodbye. For me it was the year I was planning my wedding to Tony, April 18 and even though it was a very special day in my life it was also a very sad and hard one I went down the aisle without my best friend at my side, but I know I had her blessing and like then and ever so often I feel her in my heart and your right I will allays feel special for knowing such a amazing person. In life your Mother taught me a lot, in her death I'm still learning... That it's ok to let go, yet look back, for my memories will last a lifetime. As I think of Debbie Gibson the women, I recall her strength, laughter and beauty... Debbie Gibson my best friend, I recall her loyally, honesty, and great sense of humor, and also she was a person who never feared trying new things and giving it her all, she was a free sprit who taught me to let go, have fun and trust myself.... Debbie Gibson the Mother, one of the best! she was loving, caring, supportive outgoing, active and involved, cool, and most of all proud! She lived life giving so much to others, but for some reason wasn't able to give with the same strength and confidence to herself. Ashley please know I'm so grateful to you for allowing me to share and view your life on Facebook, and know I'am amazed always with your accomplishments, talents and most of all you courage to truly shine in the light of life when so many people would have somehow got stuck in darkness. xoxox HUGS!!!!

Mrs Whiffo said...

Wishing you much love

Mariam said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Your kind, gentle openness will help so many. Beautiful.

Chris said...

What a great post, Ashley. As someone that has lost a parent, I understand those feeling that you have each year. Nothing can replace what is lost. I love your approach to moving forward and making your Mom smile down on you, wherever she is watching from.

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