This time of the year is always challenging. Memories of saying goodbye flood my mind. There are so many things I wish I had known, wish I had done at this time three years ago. So many regrets. As soon as March rolls around, my mind begins to think about what another year gone by without Mom will feel like.

Maybe more than ever, the approaching anniversary feels more significant. As my days in college are coming to an end, a chapter of my life that my mom was a part of at its beginning, it feels like this is the closest I will ever be connected to the time in my life when she was here with us. Soon, I will be leaving this place that physically binds me to these memories, where I can walk down any street or drive through any part of town and instantly be reminded of a memory with her. Chapel Hill is more than just where I went to college; it is my home, my childhood, and my connection to her. Driving through town or walking through campus, being physically connected to these places is like proof that she was here.

About a week or so ago, it really hit me that Mom will not be able to attend my graduation. Obviously, I have been aware of this fact for almost three years. But for whatever reason, as I sat doing my homework one night, the emotion and magnitude of her absence at this momentous event in my life finally dawned on me. And it took my breath away. At this point in the journey of life without Mom, it’s not too often that I break down, that I let the pain of her absence consume me. Sobbing, I let myself feel this crushing reality, the fear of entering the next phase of my life without her by my side, and the anger that she should be here with her family.

It took me about a week of holding back tears at the thought of graduation and running through my mind what graduation will be like without her to process this. And as I wrapped my head around it, I started to realize all the ways in which she has been with me all along through these past three years. In fact, in spite of her physical absence, I am convinced I could not have reached this milestone in my life without her. On my darkest mornings when life seemed unbearable without her, I am sure it was my mom pushing me to get out of bed and go to class. When I doubted myself, her unconditional belief in my abilities made me believe in myself. When I felt alone, her love got me through. At times when I struggled to be true to myself, she was the one who reminded me who I was. When I was frustrated, her patience guided me. When I accomplished something, big or small, I know she rejoiced with me. When I felt like I couldn’t, she reminded me that I can. And when I made a mistake, I know she loved me anyway. My mom has been there for me in these past three years as much as my friends’ mothers who are only a phone call away.

Realizing all the ways that my mom has been present in my life since her passing also surprisingly led to an even greater understanding. For the first time, I feel like I can truly accept that she can’t be here. It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her every day or that there won’t be moments in the future when I feel the pain of her absence, but it means that I can stop wishing she were here. Because for her to be here, she would have had to endure three more years of physical and emotional pain. She fought to be her physically with us for as long as she could until her body just couldn’t do it anymore. It will never be fair and it will never be right, but it is okay. So I can let go of wishing she could be sitting in Kenan Stadium watching me graduate in my Carolina blue cap and gown. I know she will be there in the best way that she can be, that I have carried her with me the entire time, and that she will always be here with me.

High school graduation, 2010.
High school graduation, 2010.