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“I think we should leave,” I whispered to my husband through clenched teeth as my two-year old daughter, Hailey, wailed in my arms.

We were at my cousin Ryan’s house for his daughter’s birthday party and Hailey was having a typical overtired toddler meltdown. Tears started to well up in my eyes, but not because of my daughter’s less than ideal behavior. As I surveyed the room, I could see my aunt smiling and laughing with her granddaughter and Ryan’s wife’s mom right beside them, doting on the little girl, too. Witnessing this made me think about my own mother and her absence in Hailey’s life.

Mom had died about two-and-a-half years ago, right before Hailey was born. She had succumbed after a relatively short battle with breast cancer. She was my best friend, my advisor, my laughter, and my life. Her loss had hit me hard and being pregnant when it happened certainly didn’t help. The last few years had been a roller coaster of emotions. I welcomed a new life, yet a familiar one was taken away from me. I was trying to live the most normal life I could for my family, but I felt anything but normal.

During the party, I tried to put on my bravest face, but I left with a heavy heart. The whole ride home was filled with muffled sobs because I didn’t want my daughter to see me in such a state. My husband looked on shocked because he had thought I had a good time.

“Was it really that bad?” he asked.

“No more family parties,” was all I could mutter.

One of the things I didn’t anticipate after losing my mom were the nagging feelings of resentment that would follow me around each day. I knew I would be heartbroken. I knew I would be depressed. But resentful? I know I shouldn’t project my negative feelings onto others, but when I see the continuous Mother’s Day posts on Facebook showcasing loving mother-daughter relationships or when a friend brings up spending time with their mom, the negative feelings start to creep in.

At times, I feel alone and detached from the people in my life. Not my friends, not even my husband, can relate to what I am going through, which makes grieving for my mom even harder. At our age, we are trying to form bonds and build families. We shouldn’t be faced with burying a loved one until much later in life. Often, I can’t help but wonder why I am the so-called chosen one who has won the “your mom died first” lottery.

Recently however, I had a revelation and it occurred during my deepest moments of despair. One day as I was wallowing in self-pity, a thought came into my mind as if it were placed there directly by my mom. I remembered one of the last conversations I had with her. Instead of feeling resentful, she embraced her imminent death and was grateful for the wonderful life she had lived.

“I’m lucky to have been born to great parents who could show me comfort and love,” she had said. “I was able marry, have kids and most importantly love deeply with all my heart and soul.” Some people aren’t as fortunate.”

Mom wasn’t mad about dying or angry she wouldn’t get to see her first grandchild be born. She said that she knew her time was up and she made peace with it. If my mom could live out her last days without feeling anger, then I could surely live the rest of my life without resentment.

I have started to focus on what is positive in my life, like the relationship I have with my daughter, Hailey. She’s only two-and-a-half, but I feel like we are on the path to the type of relationship I had with my mom. Hailey brings me normalcy, hope and stability. When I look at her, I don’t see what is absent in my life, but rather what is abundant. She makes me live my life with anticipation of what could be instead of dwelling on what could have been. This is the example my mom has left for me and I will try my best to honor her by following it.

I’m still a long way off from completely banishing my feelings of resentment. However, whenever I start to get into a negative mindset, I think about what I am grateful for in my life and how I can be the best mom for Hailey. Maybe one day, both Hailey and I will be able to go to family parties and enjoy them without shedding one single tear.

Rachel ODonnell

Rachel O'Donnell lives in New Jersey with her husband and two young, energetic daughters. When she's not running around with her children, she teaches English and writing classes part-time. Her writing focuses on overcoming grief and obstacles and discovering gratitude in trying situations.

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