I’ve had this prayer card in my possession for the past ten years. It’s a small little treasure on thin, stiff cardstock. The corners are still sharp, like a fresh Topps baseball card. The date is still visible.
August 1, 2006. Ten years ago.
That’s when my mother passed away.
Paula Lillian Bragg, later Miller, later Bailey, 1942 to 2006.
The card contains a small homily. “I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one, I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done. I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways, of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days. I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun, of happy memories that I leave when life is done.”
Even a decade after her passing, I still hold many emotions regarding my mother’s death. Some are good … some are painful. And all of these emotions made me what I am today.
I don’t blog that much about my mother. I can tell you that purchased nearly every Barbara Cartland and Harlequin Romance novel, and read them over and over again. She worked hard at her job with the State of New York, and she loved to watch the Albany River Rats. Even baked cookies for the players. And on several occasions, she doted on my kid and they all went camping and had great adventures together.
But if there’s one thing that I will always remember about my mother…
The one message she imparted on me, the one that always rang true…
It’s that nobody cares when you’re successful, but everybody will line up to kick you when you’re down. And people will intentionally hurt you for no other reason except that you exist in this world.
And I learned that at a very young age.
I learned that kids will tease and berate and bully and belittle anybody they can. They will take out their insecurities on you. You’re the weird new kid in school, and they’ll find some perceived flaw in your existence and they’ll exploit it like a hacker. And it’s funny – a couple of years ago, one of those bullies, a classmate at Lisha Kill Elementary School (school #10 of the Twelve) who beat the crap out of me after school, with twenty-five classmates circling around the fight and cheering him on – he tried to Facebook friend me, tried to connect with me on LinkedIn, tried to see if I would let bygones be bygones.
No. I can forgive your mindset behind those actions, but I can’t forgive the results.
I learned that sometimes you have to get away from a toxic situation in order to discover how truly toxic it really was. After that fight, I used every single excuse in the book to skip school. I faked being sick. I faked oversleeping. My mother would go to work… and I would sit and watch Happy Days and Match Game and cartoons on cable TV. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn. I just didn’t want to deal with those bullies ever again. My head was so screwed up, I didn’t dare go back to Lisha Kill for fear of being killed by my bloodthirsty classmates.
And eventually, I moved out. I went to live with my biological father. Discovered the toxicity there. Moved back to Albany and lived with an aunt and uncle for a couple of years. Another kind of toxicity. Had to actually spend four years in college – 100 miles away from my family – just to get my head screwed on straight.
I couldn’t be with my family. The emotional distance between my family and me is vast. By comparison, the English Channel is barely a creek. As far as they were concerned, I was a ne’er-do-well. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to deal with the drama. And certainly, attending my mother’s funeral in 2006 was an extremely tense moment. But when someone dies, you pay respect and you leave it at that.
I made it through that funeral. Somehow. There were people I hadn’t seen in years. There were others I wish I hadn’t seen in a longer span. But, again, you put aside your differences for one day. And then you go your separate ways.
And I still have this prayer card in my possession. It’s one of a few that I still have in my possession, of people who have been part of my journey from womb to tomb.
I did take care of one thing, though. One gift for Mom, a promise that I kept for a family member. It might have been a few years too late for her to see it… but I made sure it was achieved, nonetheless.
So while others remember my mother in their own comforting ways…
I’ll hold on to this prayer card. As a reminder of where I was…
… and of how far my journey must progress.