I Want It That Way

Grief can hit at the most unexpected times.

It’s a Saturday and it feels perfect. I’ve just wrapped my last client meeting with one of my favorite couples at one of my favorite venues. Ready to let loose and enjoy the weekend with friends, I speed along my favorite highway. No traffic, just sunset. The lighting, clouds, hills, are all so gorgeous, I can’t help but roll down my window to exclaim “I love you world!” (I tend to catcall nature when I'm in a good mood; I hope she doesn't mind).

Brimming with good feelings, I flip through radio stations to hear:

“You are –– my fi-ire, the one –– de-siiire…” 

OMG this song :D It always makes me laugh. I wasn’t too keen on the Boys, but my mom saw them on Entertainment Tonight once. As was her habit whenever she saw something on TV she wanted to share, she used her this is an emergency voice to shout: “NESS, I mean MEESH, I mean TREE! Get in here, quick!” I sprinted over to see the Backstreet Boys dressed in white, and mommykins turning her expectant face to me to ask “Do you like them?” with shining hopeful eyes. 

I was not an easy teenager. I was prone to meltdowns of the door-slamming variety, of the screaming “I hate you, I just wanna diieeee” variety. I spent too many days wallowing in angst and too many nights sneaking out. But my mom never tired of trying to find ways to connect. 

So a few days later, I found this on my pillow:

Ha. Alright. I decided to humor her, and popped it in the CD player. You know how sometimes you do something to make fun of it, but then you end up “making fun” so often that it just becomes your thing? That summer, I Want It That Way became our thing. We entered rooms the other was in accompanied by this move:

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We AJ-finger-pointed to "Am I your fire? Your 1 desire?"

We sang it while cooking dinner, doing art projects, on drives home from McDonald’s with the windows down…

…as I’m singing along with the wind in my hair fifteen years later, I feel my hands start to tremble on the steering wheel and my vision start to blur. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to pull over on account of crying, but the last time was a few years ago, shortly after cancer suddenly diminished my mom's body to a frail 78 pounds. Not even the constant pain could dull her personality though. She smiled and joked with the nurse who cared for her on the first day in the hospital. We couldn't imagine her being conquered by anything, so we talked only of getting better, of miracles, of hope. But soon the pain made talking hard. Then the morphine made it impossible. And just one day later, instead of a turning point for the better, that hospital room became the end. 

In the months after losing her, it was often a struggle to drive without crying, but I've since regained control of my emotions. And yet, years later, I find myself on the side of the highway with the Backstreet Boys imploring "Tell me why?". My former self would be alarmed by this regression, but life has since taught me that progress and process are not linear. It is not as simple as slaying obstacles and feeling great until a new challenge arrives. There are some events that become part of your being and resurface depending on the tide. 

I met with a friend last week who lost her dad very recently. She's in the thick of grief, and asked how long it took for me to feel normal again. I was sorry to tell her that although there are definitely brighter and easier days ahead for her, after a loss of great magnitude, I'm not sure if you ever return to your old "normal".

There's no going back to "normal" after you've watched someone you loved your whole life dwindle to a body you find it hard to recognize. I will never look at life the same way after feeling it leave the person whose hand I was holding, after feeling everything that I was hoping and praying for crash inside me.

It’s true what they say, it gets easier with time. Everything does. But if you lose someone very dear to you, there will always be moments when you realize: no, you’re not okay with the fact that they’re not here anymore.

I’m not okay with the fact that my mom never got to see my life and career in California. I’m not okay with the fact that she wasn’t there to help me into my wedding dress, that I couldn’t confide in her during the divorce, that she’ll never meet whoever I end up with. But that’s part of growing up: having those pieces of not-okayness, and embracing and loving your whole life’s package anyway.

Not being okay with her being gone reinforces my conviction in how lucky I am. How lucky to have had someone who made me laugh so hard, who believed in me so fully, who created a family dynamic that will last forever. How lucky to be alive, and to be my mother's daughter. My mom was f***ing awesome (she also hated it when I swore). I will never not miss her. And that’s how it should be.

I guess I want it that way.

And despite the fact that the Boys made me cry behind the wheel, this video will still always make me laugh:

Aren't they neato? :D