Let me start off by saying I love my family. I’m the oldest of three children and the only girl. My dad and my stepmom have been married for 2 years and love each other and us very much. Everyone loves having my stepmom around. Everyone except me.
I know I must sound harsh but let me explain. My mom passed away when I was twelve and my little brothers were just 5 and 2. The death was sudden, so we all took it hard, especially my dad. Mom was his best friend and better half. That was five years ago now, but the pain is still fresh. Being happy feels wrong without her.
Mom was an artist. Painting was her creative outlet of choice, but her colorful spirit flowed into everything she touched. She was like a small-town celebrity; we couldn’t go anywhere without someone striking up a conversation. I admired how attentive she was with each person, no matter if they were a stranger or an old friend. Her smile illuminated every room she walked into and her laugh was infectious. Sometimes if I sit quiet enough, I can still hear her laugh traveling from downstairs where she loved to watch television.
She was a Pisces, so she was drawn to the ocean and other bodies of water. Every summer we would go on a family cruise. The summer before her passing we were sitting on the balcony of our room, taking in the ocean breeze. It was pitch-dark as the water and sky blended with nothing in sight. Suddenly, you could faintly see the lights of another ship on the horizon. She leaned down over my shoulders and said, “You see that babygirl? In life, even when it seems like the only thing surrounding you is darkness, remember to look for the glimmer of hope.”
My stepmom came into the picture when I was around fifteen. She dated my dad for only six short months before they were married. After my mom passed, I was the woman of the house. I cooked, cleaned, and looked after my little brothers. Releasing that responsibility when my stepmom moved in was a tough adjustment. Everything she did, including redecorating and purchasing new furniture, felt like she was trying to erase the memory of my mother. I was furious with her, but also with my dad. How could he just let her come in and try to replace our mother?
My brothers were crazy about our stepmom and of course my dad was too, but I kept my feelings neutral. She made several attempts to bond with me and even expressed that I could come to her about anything I didn’t feel comfortable discussing with my dad. I told myself I would never let her get too close. I know she didn’t deserve the distant treatment, but it was the only way I could guard my heart.
When I turned sixteen, she planned a girls day for us and my closest friends. Every detail was thoughtfully planned out. We went to the salon to get our hair and nails done, and the spa to get facials and hot stone massages. We went to the mall and shopped for hours. That night, everyone slept over at our house. We ate ice cream and cake, popped popcorn, watched scary movies, and took pictures in our matching PJs. It was the perfect day. It was also the first birthday I was able to enjoy in a long time. Before bed, I hugged my stepmom and thanked her for everything. I thought to myself, “Maybe she isn’t so bad after all.”
I envied my little brothers. They were too young to feel the same pressure I felt. I also knew it was different for them. They needed a mother. Someone to nurture and care for them in a way that I couldn’t as their big sister. The reality was I needed a mother too. There were days I cried myself to sleep wishing I could accept that Mom was gone, and that my stepmom was here to fill in the gap. My heart just wouldn’t let me. I had to keep Mom’s presence alive.
My eighteenth birthday came around and it ironically fell on the same day as Mother’s Day. We agreed to go out to brunch to celebrate my stepmom and have a family dinner that evening to celebrate me. Mom was on my mind heavy that day as I kept wondering what she would think of me if she were still here. Would I turn out to be half the woman she was?
As we wrapped up dinner, we moved into the family room so I could open my gifts. My little brothers pitched in to get me a new pair of headphones. My stepmom gifted me a hand-knitted blanket and a beautiful pair of silver hoop earrings. Then it was my dad’s turn. He reached behind the sofa and placed the perfectly wrapped present in my hand. He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I saved the best for last.”
I eagerly pulled back the wrapping paper as if it were Christmas morning. Tears began to pour down my face. I stared down at a painting. My mother had painted the ship on the horizon with the faint lights. On the back of the canvas it read:
When it seems like the only thing surrounding you is darkness, remember to look for the glimmer of hope.
I knew in that moment Mom was letting me know everything would be okay, giving me permission to be happy. Allowing other people to love me didn’t mean I was betraying her, because she would always be with me. She’s irreplaceable.