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The Things You Left Behind

by MacKenzie Duncan 7 months ago in grief

Things and Lessons My Mother Gave Me

My boyfriend and I talk a lot about healing and growing as people. I share with him the deepest parts of myself, my soul, my thoughts, and my journey on trying to heal from the pain of the last few years. This week marked a big first in the last three years of my life, and I got to share with him that I, for the first time in a long time around this particular day, I was okay. The first Mother's Day I didn't break down crying at the thought of you. This is the first year where I wasn't sitting in dread over things like the day I lost you, or your birthday, or now, Mother's Day. I managed to smile and laugh, wishing Grandma and his Mom a happy one, and then I moved on. The thoughts don't leave, the absence never fully goes away, but for the first time since you left, it isn't tearing away at my being.

That isn't to say, however, that the thought of you has stopped crossing my mind. I don't think you'll ever be fully gone away from my mind, from my heart. Just that I'm healing, and I've started finding the light at the end of the tunnel. And I can reflect a bit easier on the things you gave me over all these years.

One: Your Mannerisms.

I've noticed it a lot more lately. How I wave my hands a lot when I talk, or I always find myself fidgeting with anything I can get my hands on when I'm bored. I hear the jokes I make even over something that's a bit darker, because it's how I learned from you to cope -- to laugh through it all.

Dad hates going grocery shopping with me now, did you know that? And it's because he'll be driving the cart and trying to do something, then all of a sudden I'll duck and weave through a couple different aisles without a word because I saw something else I needed, and he'll roll his eyes and tell me, "You're just like your Mom." I forgot you tended to do the exact same thing -- like when you and Grandma accidentally ditched your sister and I in an aisle at Target because you saw something else, and we had to run around the store to find you guys since you had both of our cell phones.

I crave ice from Sonic all the time now, just like how you used to have Dad go and get you either a large cup of it a day or to go get one or two bags at a time.

My desire to fight back, I think, was given to me by you. Never wanting to let people slide with being hateful or rude. And the mouth that came with that has yet to go away.

Even when I'm bored, I scroll endlessly through different recipes to try out, and write down. I've started and restarted making my own recipe binder several times now, just like how you had a billion notebooks that maybe only had the first ten or so pages that had recipes on them before you started on a different one.

It's odd, to think about. I spent most of my life thinking there really wasn't any similarities there, we had always been two separate people. But the older I get the more I realize these were just some of the things you gave me, though these were the ones that came, I think, from my environment around you.

Two: A Decorating and Crafting Spirit.

I still get excited whenever I drive past a Dollar Tree, ready to go look to find something new. I still save a bunch of different ideas for crafts I haven't had the time to do, but want to so badly. I still find ones I think you'd like and, for that first year after losing you, I had almost sent you over 100, I guarantee you, only to remember you wouldn't get them. I've told myself once I move into my own place, have more time to myself, that's exactly what I'm going to do; to craft and craft and craft, so I can get just some little bit of joy from something you taught me.

And don't even get me started on Halloween. The holidays had always been your thing. Didn't matter the holiday, you just always wanted to decorate, and go all out. I think, personally, I've been worn out on most of them -- especially Christmas, your favorite, that with every year, you made our house look more and more like Santa's Workshop had exploded inside of it, and I couldn't take it anymore.

But Halloween was the one I think we both agreed on. We always wanted to make our house the spookiest and most decorated on the block, with you always finding new ways to add to it. Dad and I still put up the large wooden headstones that we all made so long ago, and still, without fail, the wind keeps knocking them down. But we still lift them back up, time and time again, because we want to keep that spirit of festivities alive.

I still want to carry Halloween and its good memories of frights, ghouls, candy and you, with me.

Three: Always Take The Picture.

Christmas morning was a dredge as a teenager, and I know you heard me complain about why it was. Every Christmas morning, I had to wake up super early to open gifts with you and Dad before we'd go off onto the family events, and with every single present put in my lap I had to stop, pause, and let you take at least, what, three pictures per present? Probably more? And I always, without fail, looked like a disaster because it was 5 in the morning. I hated having the pictures taken because it made everything longer and I didn't want people later in my life to ever see them.

Any big event followed that pattern. You took pictures of everything -- every trip, every performance, every get together, or even just random little things. You always had a great eye for photography, and pictures you took of the scenery around you were always breathtaking. The family pictures always irritated me as a teenager because I just wanted to be anywhere but there -- and, frankly, I can still be that same way.

But you never wanted to be in the pictures. You did everything you could to simply hide behind the camera. I know why -- it's for a lot of the same reason I hate catching myself in the mirror most days or I worry about how I look in an outfit. It's hard habits to break, the way someone can hate how they look and feel uncomfortable in their skin. It takes a lot of work and healing to get to a better point.

I wish you would have gotten there for yourself.

And I wish I had more pictures of you from that era of my life.

That last year we had with you, you started braving through a lot more photos. A lot of photos I'm thankful to have, but I realize there are a lot more gaps where there should have been pictures of you from when I was maybe nine, ten years old to when I was eighteen, nineteen years old. Things I'm never gonna get to share of you when I have kids.

Now, whenever I go out to do something, it feels like this impulse that never goes away fully. To get that picture. To get a photo of the fun I'm having, the people I'm with. To have some sort of tangible proof that it happened, and to have proof of who these important people in my life were, so we could look back and smile at the memories we made together with a little more clarity.

I do it so my future kids and grandkids won't go through that same heartache, or, if anything were to happen to me, that the people around me can remember my face just a little bit clearer and have something to jog their memories of our happy times together.

I really wish that you would have learned that lesson yourself a little sooner than I did.

Four: Always Say I Love You.

I can never stress that enough to people anymore. If you care about someone, doesn't matter if it's a friend, significant other, family, whoever -- you always say "I love you."

Life is so, so short and fleeting. There needs to be more joy and compassion out in the world. And I learned the hard way you never know when the last time you tell someone you love them will be.

After losing you, I think I say it a million times more than I already had. I never leave an outing without saying it at least once to those around me, and I'll have said it at least five times during. Because I want them to know, to never doubt how much I love them, and for them to know how important they are.

That won't ever be one thing I'll regret doing more of.

Five: How to Say Goodbye, and Healing.

I was about four months shy of 20 when you died. Most days anymore, it feels more like a lifetime ago rather than three years. It used to be that it felt like it just happened, and I could never shake it off.

Losing people is hard, no matter what. I'd been through enough family deaths to learn that lesson. Like when we lost Grandpa and it just shattered my whole world. There was nothing anyone could do, and I think, in part, it was because I didn't get the closure of goodbye. I refused to believe I was going to lose him and when the time came, I just couldn't bare to face it. What could I have done at fifteen going on sixteen?

You were a different story.

The day I got the call you were in the hospital and Dad didn't know if you'd pull through, the first and last time he ever told me that, I knew. I prepared myself along the way for a week of waiting in that stupid hospital, getting the same answers from any doctor that was treating you, that time was up. I got to say my goodbyes and tell you I was going to be okay, even though I was screaming inside the entire time that I didn't want you to go.

Your last words to me, some few days before you died, when I managed to get down there from college, I was fighting with you to keep your oxygen mask on. "It's okay, sweetheart."

I didn't think then that anything would ever be okay again. I was angry for a long, long time that those were your last words to me, and angry that things didn't feel okay.

It's three years later, Mom. And I think, just this once, you were right. Therapy has helped a lot in terms of healing from the past and working through my anxiety, my depression and the trauma of losing you. I have the best support system around in the form of my best friends and my boyfriend, who I still love more and more every single day. I have a great job for now, and we'll see where we're at if in a year I'm able to move out of this state for the first time since going off to college. I'm writing, working on a project my boyfriend and I are both so, so proud of that we've created.

I started working on trying to heal myself and to love myself, to live for myself and find my happiness.

And I think, with everything now settled, I can finally, properly, say goodbye with telling you for sure that everything is okay now. I can always carry the best parts of you with me for when I need them. But, for now, in this time of healing, I can lift up those best parts in this piece, and say it;

I love you, Mom. Thank you.

And bye for now.

grief

MacKenzie Duncan

22, she/her. I've been writing stories since I could pick up a pencil, and always looking for new outlets and mediums to present every little idea.

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