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Mourning a Mother

I can’t breathe.

Is there anything heavier or sharper than grief?

If this was a movie, I’d be slumped on my side having just been run through with a sword. No, it won’t kill me, but to deny that death more than stings for those of us left behind would be an atrocious lie. Papercuts sting. This is so much more.

Talk of heaven doesn’t comfort me. I don’t want hope right now. I want to press into this moment of terrible otherness – the rending of life. Don’t talk to me about her reunion with Jesus or the promise of being with her again someday. Those thoughts will come in the days ahead. Today let me mourn and don’t try to stem the torrential tears. Just hold me close and let me be.

Twelve days ago, one of my “mothers” chose her ending – to enter hospice care at home with her precious family by her side. She’d been battling cancer and the treatments didn’t work. Last night, she took her last breath.

Avon

I stole this from her Facebook page. I love her mischievous grin.

Avon Shields, known by thousands of women around the world as “Momavon,” was my dorm mom in college. She has been one of the most influential women in my life. I could write volumes about the lessons I learned from her, but I’ve tried my best to live them out instead. The way she loved the girls in her care made me want to be a mom even though I swore to her that wasn’t part of my plan. She just laughed and hugged me tight, “Oh Niki, my sweet girl, you may change your mind one day.”

Three weeks after my eighteenth birthday, I packed everything I own and waited for my friend Erin Beske and her parents to take me away to my new life, one I’d been dreaming about since the seventh grade when I first stepped foot on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska. Finally, and against the odds, I said goodbye to my childhood in Wisconsin and swore I’d never call it my home again. Yes, I’m a bit dramatic like that, and apparently I swear a lot.

There were only two women’s dorms and I was assigned to the one Avon lived in. Someday I’ll write about the many kindnesses and miracles of that life-altering first year, but this is about me and Avon. She told me once she loved me from the moment we met. That strong, patient woman poured love and guidance into me, a broken girl with too many holes in my bucket, and when I apologized for being so needy, she pulled me close and said that was nonsense.

She saw the leader in me and gave me responsibilities, showing me I was capable. When we joked and teased her about her many rules and forms, I was secretly relieved at the structure and stability she provided after growing up in my chaotic family. I’m totally a rule bender, but I needed her to help me set my life on a better course. I think we both knew it. A lot of the major decisions I made at York were discussed over tea in her apartment. She talked me through all the things my mother couldn’t, and I’ll be forever grateful. When she did finally meet my mother, she was kind and gracious to her, which was also a gift to me.

Avon loved Benny. She loved to remind me that she knew he was the one I’d choose maybe even before I knew myself. It’s been many years since we’ve sat together with a cup of tea, and I’m glad we had Facebook to help us peek into each other’s lives. I’m thankful for the brief moments we’ve shared in the 25 years since we lived in the same space. There are so many stories to tell, and all of them are coursing through me today with a painful and beautiful cadence.

I love Avon’s family and ache for them right now. Her husband Ron is a kind and funny man. I don’t know their eldest son Alan, though we’ve met. I’ve always admired Lynnette and her beautiful artist’s soul. I know her son Paul the best as he was my editor when I worked on the school newspaper staff in college, and his wife Shalee is one of my kindred spirit friends I wish lived next door. I can’t be with them this week, but my aching heart is there, attempting this dance of grief and celebration with clumsy feet.

When we lose someone we love, we often choose to immortalize them as their best selves. We know they were flawed but we overlook those things to remember them as the heroes they were in our lives. I’m okay with that. I think it’s the way it should be. It’s what I hope for someday too, to be remembered as the best of what and who I was.

I will remember you, Avon. I promise. I learned how to patch my bucket and I’ve tried to be purposeful about pouring into others. Thank you for showing me how. Thank you for guiding me through my baby steps of adulthood and loving me when I didn’t feel lovable. Thank you for cheering me on as I spread my wings and flew away. It’s been years since I’ve hugged you, and I hope to hug you again someday. Thanks for being a mom to me.

Begin Again!

Those two words are the story of my life.

I start things, get busy or bored, leave them sit for a while, then begin them again. Projects, writing or otherwise, are the worst and most common testing ground for this. I take brave, stumbling steps forward and often fall down, but I always get back up and begin again. I am resilient.

Beginning again is a choice. If you get lost, find your way back. If you fall down, get back up. If you are wounded, let yourself heal. Never ever give up. Finish what you start. Just do it. Press on. Start over. Pick up where you left off. If you’re still not happy or making headway with the project or whatever it is you’ve stalled out on, re-evaluate and decide if you’re at the end. If you are, let it go and embrace your freedom to move on. If you’re not finished yet, begin again. You can do it. So can I. We can cheer each other on!

Oh, how we need to cheer each other on! We need reminders because we forget and we judge ourselves too harshly. It doesn’t have to be this way, so here’s our reminder for today:

Keep moving forward. Dare greatly. Begin Again.begin again

(I was searching for a beautiful photo to accompany this post and came across this gem at http://melissablair.net/always-begin-again. What a nice reminder that this is nothing new and we are never alone. Great minds…)

 

 

 

2017 Teen Book Con logoTechnically it’s for teens and not forty-five year old teachers, so I volunteered to be a chaperone for five of my favorite teen girls. I’m a genius. Admit it. I win.

Maggie

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie is going to be there! I love Maggie! She’s my kind of weird, and her stories pull me in then drag me around by the heart for months after I’ve finished them.

 

David Levithan photo

David Levithan

And David! He introduced me to Dash & Lily, and A, and a bunch of other great characters born in his crazy writer/editor brain.

 

Maggie and David are the keynote speakers for the day, but they’ll be joined by 24 other amazing authors including one of my other favorites…Veronica Rossi. I can’t wait to meet her!

The Tattered Cover didn’t forget me completely. They’re hosting a YA Author Happy Hour for the over 21 crowd the night before Teen Book Con. I get to meet the same authors over a drink, get Maggie’s new book signed, and hopefully meet a few local OwlCrate future friends. If you’re in the Denver area and interested in this event, there are still some tickets available:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-ya-author-happy-hour-tickets-36874760401

Maybe I’ll see you there! 😉

 

 

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