I am forever changed. Yes, losing a parent will do that. But, it’s not solely the passing of my mom. It’s this entire journey I’ve been on over the past 4 1/2 years.
When I decided at the end of 2010 to quit my job in Golden, Colorado and move back to Cincinnati – and in with my parents who graciously took me back – I had no idea what life had in store for me. Then again, who really does know?
I traveled for 14 weeks in the spring and summer of 2011 without a return ticket, winging it as I went along. I photographed beautiful places. I met interesting people. I explored ancient worlds. I hiked picturesque mountains and valleys. I ran through rural Turkey, San Marcos piazza in Venice, grapevines in Italy, the pedestrian ways of Santorini and the heat of Antalya in southern Turkey. It was fabulous! I didn’t want to come back. But, the money was running out so, reluctantly, I made my way back to Cincinnati.
Little did I know that a year and half after my return life would change drastically. It was in early 2013 that my mom was diagnosed with the pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) that would put her on oxygen 24/7 and make her more frail. I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere, at least not permanently, for a while. There was a reason I moved back to Cincinnati from Colorado. And, there was a reason I came back after that 14 week adventure. Most importantly, there was a reason I stayed that year and a half in between. Something kept me in Cincinnati.
The tough part of the journey began as Mom became more frail and required more help late last year. While my dad is a very young 84 year old, it became difficult for him to truly care for my mom. A daughter’s touch was what she needed. So, being the one living with them, I simply did it. Why shouldn’t I? She cared for me as a child and even as an adult. Friends would tell me, “I don’t know how you are doing it.” I didn’t think about it. I was living the Nike slogan – “Just do it”.
My sister commented to me once during this journey, “I didn’t think you had it in you.” At first, I was offended by this. She had no idea what I had been through in my 15 years of living in Colorado! But, I realized there were times when I wasn’t sure I had it in me. I did. And, for me, there are no regrets. If Mom was still here, I’d still care for her. I’d endure sleepless nights, forgetting to eat, and being interrupted in the middle of something I was doing for myself to help her. Taking care of her was an honor and a privilege.
Being someone who has often been viewed as selfish by my family has been something I’ve lived with most of my adult life. There is some truth to this widely held belief which is why I don’t have children and is also why I’m probably not married. I had an ex-boyfriend say to me, “It doesn’t matter what I say. You’re just going to do what you want, when you want anyway.” He was right. I want to do what I want and when I want. No strings attached. But, this journey has changed me. Not that I’m still not that same girl. I know that I am. I do want to do what I damn well want to do and when the fuck I want to do it. However, now I think more about my mom. And, I think about how she truly sacrificed for us – all the time. She wanted what was best for us kids. And, I know she often gave up what she wanted for us and for my dad. That’s love. Sacrificing for those you love is true, unconditional love. And, you don’t think about it. You don’t question it. You simply do it because you love that person.
I’m not really sure where my journey is headed. I’ve written about that already – the missing puzzle piece. What I do know is that as I move forward on my life’s path, that I do so as a different person than I was 5 years ago. I still yearn to travel without a return ticket. And, I have no doubt that I will at some point in the future do just that. But, it will be as a changed person. I know that the girl who took off a little over 4 years ago on that 14 week adventure is still here – the girl who wants to do what she wants and when she wants. The girl who wants to travel the world, photograph it and write about it, exploring and experiencing as much as possible. But she is not the same. She’s stronger – wiser – more compassionate – more loving – less selfish – more understanding – more willing to drop everything to help someone. And I think that makes me a better daughter, sister, aunt, friend, traveler and most importantly – a better human being. Thanks, Mom. You taught me so much more than I ever realized. I wish you were here so I could tell you that and give you a big hug of thanks. But, somehow, I think you’ve always known…