Joannie Rochette, I can relate.

27 02 2010

An Open Letter to Canadian Figure Skater Joannie Rochette:

Dear Joannie,

I watched the tragedy in your young life unfold over the past week along with the rest of the world. I looked on as, following your short skate, you looked heavenward and mouthed the word, “Mom.” And just like the millions of other viewers, my heart went out to you. But unlike most of them, I could relate.

No, I was never an Olympic medal hopeful, bound for an international stage. But I suffered a similar loss when I was about to take the stage for the biggest moment of my life.

It was May 1992, I was 23 years old with just two weeks to go before my wedding day when I got the call. It was my big sister Julie, calling to tell me that our Mom had suffered a stroke and that I had to get to the hospital right away. By the time I got there, she was in a coma. The next morning, she died. She was just 53.

You are 24 years old and your Mom was 55 when she suffered the massive heart attack that took her life last weekend. We have a lot in common. I wish we didn’t.

But tragedy, as you can see, doesn’t concern itself with timing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered why my Mom — if God had to call her home — couldn’t have lived just two more weeks. Long enough to see me walk down the aisle, be a part of the family photos, see us off on our honeymoon. How many times did I look skyward and, in my anger and grief, shout, “Why God? Why now? You couldn’t have waited two more weeks? What’s two weeks to You?”

I know you will always wonder why your Mom couldn’t have been allowed to live long enough to see the culmination of your years of hard work and dedication — and all of the sacrifices she made that brought you to Vancouver. I’m sure that question has already run through your mind dozens of times.

What can I share with you as I look back over the painful days and weeks that followed? If I could take a time machine back to May 1992 and my current self could talk to my younger self, this is what I’d tell her:

The road ahead is going to be tough, but you’ll make it through. In the days, weeks, and months that followed my Mom’s death, I literally felt like I couldn’t go on. I cried through my honeymoon and that summer, every morning as I was getting ready for work, I’d cry over the porcelain sink in our apartment bathroom until the tears would no longer come, until I was fresh out and knew it was safe to put on some make-up.

You still have your Dad. Love him with all you’ve got. A week or two after my Mom’s death, my Dad took me to our favorite pizza joint. We ordered a deep-dish pepperoni double cheese. But my vision was so blurry from the tears that I couldn’t even see to take a bite.

That’s when he reached over, placed his hand on mine and said, “You’ve still got me.”

You’re now a member of a very small club. For a long time, I couldn’t find anyone I could relate to. I attended a grief support group once — but the people there were old enough to be my grandparents and, when it was my turn, and I shared the loss of my Mother, they were unfazed. Many of them had lost their mothers, too. Sure, I thought to myself, but you were 60 or 70 when it happened, not 23. I never went back.

Be patient. There are people out there who have suffered a similar loss, and you will find them. When you do, don’t be afraid to open your heart.

Progress is one step forward, two steps back. You will likely feel an emotion you might not be accustomed to — jealousy. Many times over the years, I watched my girlfrends with their Moms and I felt envy. I didn’t want to feel it — but I couldn’t help myself. They had the amazing blessing of having their Mom by their side when they walked down the aisle, when their first baby came into the world, when life got hard and they needed a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes, I felt myself looking longingly at a mother and daughter together at the mall. It was years before I could ride the escalator at the mall where my Mom and I used to shop, where we picked out my homecoming and prom dresses.

Someday, when enough time has passed, you will be able to feel genuinely happy for the people in your life who have the great fortune to still have their moms. You will never forget the wrenching pain of your loss, and you will say a silent prayer that God allows them to have their mothers in their lives for a long, long time to come. And it will bring you peace.

You are stronger than you know. You’ve already proved it to the world. You are nothing short of amazing. Your courage is remarkable and you’ve done your Mom proud. But being strong doesn’t mean you won’t have your moments. Let yourself sob, feel anger, balk at the injustice of it all. It’s OK.

There’s nothing anyone can do or say that will heal your broken heart or take the excruciating pain away. Believe me, I wish I could.

Well, maybe there is one thing. You’re going to be OK. In fact, though you will never, ever, forget your Mom, you will come to terms with her loss and you will feel truly happy again. I promise.

In the meantime, I wish I were there with you. I wish I could hold you at those moments when you’re crying so hard you think you’re going to suffocate. I’d tell you that you are beautiful and wonderful and courageous and that it’s going to be OK. That your Mom will continue to live on through you.


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