When I was a child, my life was similar to a Grimm’s fairy tale- beautiful and sparkling on the outside, while full of mystery and wonder, but also tinged with a darkness that most people don’t experience, at least not until later in life. My family was extremely loving, but each member had it’s own set of personal challenges. Everyone in my family was blessed with great intellect, but wracked with some form or another of mental illness. My grandmother had dementia, OCD and depression; I had four uncles, one schizophrenic, one agoraphobic, one alcoholic and bi-polar, and one sociopathic. I myself have OCD and anxiety. My mother has anxiety, and my grandfather’s family had a history of depression. Any way you twist it, my family was a psychologist’s dream.
However, no matter their difficulties, everyone in my family always loved me fully and always made sure that I knew it. I admit that I had a lot more love in my life than the average child. For this I will always be grateful- it has made me who I am today. However, it was simply because of the unfortunate idiosyncrasies and illnesses that my childhood had any challenges. Though at the time, I truly thought of this craziness as ‘normal.’
My father has never been a part of my life. As he was an alcoholic, my Mother decided to keep me away from him when I was growing up. This has been hard, and has presented many challenges for both my mother and I, but to this day I only thank her for her decision. She sacrificed and struggled much for her this, but she protected me, and I never had to experience his volatility.
In my life however, I have experienced much loss.
My first experience with death came when I was only seven- my beloved Grandfather suddenly fell ill and passed away. He was such a genuinely good person. As a doctor, he often saw patients for free if they could not pay, which sometimes made him struggle himself. But he would never let this stop him from helping another person in need. He was such a gift. Him, my mother and I especially could’ve been described as “three peas in a pod.” We did everything together, and the bond that the three of us shared defined the joy and positivity of my childhood. For me, his loss was an extremely deep one.
In high school, I lost both my dear Grandmother and a good family friend who had helped my mother when she first became sick (more on that later). Growing up my Grandmother taught me about the beauty of nature, about living in the moment and being the kindest person you can be. Despite her hardships, she was known as a joyful and loving person. I miss her greatly every day.
In college, I’ve experienced the passing of my schizophrenic uncle, who was so much more than his label. Though doctors argued that he didn’t have a shred of sense in him, and though they said he couldn’t truly love because of his illness, I knew otherwise. I know he loved me. He listened to me, always called me “the baby” of the family, and never went a day in his life without cracking some wise joke. He had this raucous, loud laugh that echoed throughout the room. No matter how frustrated he got with his illnesses’ limitations, he always would calm down and listen when I spoke to him. Thinking about him now still brings a smile to my face. What a vibrant soul, what a gift. He was brilliant, and only had the misfortune of being dealt a horrible hand. I miss him dearly.
Besides my experiences with death, I have had to cope with another type of pain for much of my life- the constant fear of loss. When I was thirteen years old, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of malignant breast cancer. I did not know it at the time, but the doctors had told her she had about 3 months to live. Our family friend kept me distracted and positive throughout the horrific and seemingly unending cycles of chemo and surgery and radiation. I had to grow up overnight. My childhood ended on my thirteenth birthday, when I heard the news, sitting on my grandparent’s pink, velvet couch. I remember that precise moment, when despite everything I had already suffered, life dealt me another insane hand of cards. Everything changed.
Thankfully, after all the treatments and trials, my Mother has made it to today. She is still here with me now, and this is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for in the universe. She had been given three months and has lived eight years. Her determination and resilience rivals mine and is where I have learned to be strong from. My mother has always been my savior, my greatest advocate, and my best friend. It is hard to explain, but it is almost as if we are the same person- we love and care for each other so much that our hearts feel as one. She is the greatest gift, and being her daughter has been the greatest honor. I love her with all of my heart, and am so proud of her. She truly is my hero.
Unfortunately as of late, her cancer has progressed further, and we are very uncertain of what the future will bring. There isn’t a day that I don’t go to sleep praying to the universe or God or whatever deities may exist for her to survive. I not only want it for myself, I want it for her. She does not deserve the pain and suffering she has been put through, and it hurts me deeply to see her go through this. I would literally give up my life for her to have a chance at happiness and a long life. And I know she would do the same for me if the situations were reversed. But we know that this is not how the universe works. If you sacrifice something, you are not automatically repaid. No matter what we do, neither of us can change the truth. But both of us, each and every day, can decide to go on. This is what we do, and though we are apart, we know that we can never truly be separated. Our hearts are one in the same.
It has been just me and my mother for the majority of my life. It’s always been us against the world, against any challenge, as the perfect team, together. Without her I don’t know who I will be or how I will go on. But whatever happens, I have promised both her and myself that I will.
Despite the poverty, the cancer, the mental illnesses and fights, the hurt, the fear, the anger and seemingly endless nights, I will go on. I am brave. I am my mother’s daughter. I am a warrior and a survivor. Because of her, I am resilient.
I must admit: it has been extremely hard to write these words, to tell you all this story. This is because every word is truth. My life has been the most magical, must lucky yet most tumultuous, most uncertain and difficult of any person’s that I know, at least for my age. I have risen above what life has thrown at me. I have survived, thrived even. I am resilient, and always will be. For this, I am proud. But it does scare me sometimes to take a step back and see what I’ve been through. The long, twisting road that led me to here was a rough one. But I am here now, and I will only allow myself to go forward.
If there is one thing I am most proud of in my life, it is my sheer determination, resilience, and inextinguishable spirit. Thankfully, I was blessed with an incredible family, a mountain of love, a wonderful mother, the ability to see the good and beauty in life when almost all seems lost, and the heart of a survivor.
Thank you for listening to my story. And remember that no matter what life throws at you, be brave. Don’t let it anything conquer you. You can and will go on.
-Middlebury College, ’15