Turn the radio on and you’ve got yourself a myriad of love ballads to choose from. Some of them are the drippy, sappy kind that stick to your bones; others are angry, red-hot with resentment. But, some of the best ones out there are those that aren’t explicitly about romance. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” comes to mind, specifically a line from the chorus.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
No. You don’t. Or, in the very least, I didn’t know what I had until it was almost gone.
Three months ago my stepmom went into liver failure.
She’d had a day-long headache and took an Ibuprofen to quell her discomfort. Some hours later she was retching blood. She and my father would make haste to the ER where she would be medevaced to another hospital. She was in the hospital for two weeks afterward, but the drug had already taken its toll on her. The doctors said she had terminal liver failure and gave her 90 days. It was a fluke, a chance accident that she’d have an allergic reaction. But she did. And it nearly killed her.
Typing that last sentence stings. My eyes well up and I can feel the sadness sit heavy in my throat. Up until that point, until she was almost gone, I didn’t realize that I took for granted how much I loved her. More so, I didn’t fully acknowledge the extent of her influence—her love—on me and of me until three months ago. I’m ashamed to admit it because it feels unkind and ignorant. But part of my stepmom’s modus operandi in life is transparent honesty. So here I am, attempting to be honest about my feelings.
That isn’t her only life pursuit. She believes in the power of language: of had versus have. As in she had liver failure—not has. She loves wholeheartedly, thicker than the crunchy peanut butter you can grind yourself at an organic market. She places an emphasis on communication and candor—on owning your feelings and understanding why you feel or felt a certain way. It was here, at those metaphorical crossroads, where you’d harness the best version of yourself—you’d find love, compassion, and understanding. For yourself, anyone, and anything.
This sentiment carried me through the past 15 years of my life and paved the way for some of the most magical moments. It helped me navigate the tough ones too, to say the least. So, when tempered with the prospect of losing that fulcrum, I found myself saying to others that the world could learn a thing or two from the love that my stepmom and dad have. Not just how they love each other, but how they teach others to love—both the other as an individual and the other within a relationship. Had it not been for my stepmom and her impact on my dad and I, my life would’ve been very different.
So, when I asked “What can I do to help?” my dad’s reply wasn’t surprising. “Just love her,” he said.
That meant I also had to love the unknown. The unknown could mean losing a mom. Or, the unknown could also mean another 30 years of parental bliss.
But how the hell do you reconcile and learn to love the unknown? I’m quick to say “I don’t know.” That’s easier than having to face my emotions or demons. But in my head, I can hear my stepmom’s voice saying “Well, why don’t you take a wild ass guess, babe.”
Dammit, Mom. No, there’s no harm in taking a W.A.G. I guess I’d start here, sitting at the edge of her bed—nestled between the life lessons she gives me, the effervescent love, and memories. But if I wasn’t me? If I wasn’t someone who’d spent what felt like an eternity with her? I’d say:
Start by talking to your plants—they’re world’s best listeners.
Make space for yourself. All of you.
Seek truth in the why.
Stay honest with yourself.
Take the fear out of the unknown.
Leave judgment to the courts.
Start vocalizing expectations.
And more importantly, love something or someone for what or who it is, not what it’s not.
In turn, you end up loving yourself and others more than you think.
So, this isn’t your conventional love story. It doesn’t have an ending because that’s the beauty of love: it just keeps going. Love is adaptive, versatile, and everlasting. It will endure. And I will too.
Illustration by Megan Galante
BY Monique Seitz-Davis - February 22, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.