For me, this time of year is always bittersweet. Celebrating the birth of my children, the blessings that were and will always be, is all that’s sweet to me in this sour world. The bitter part for me this time of year is the reminder that I lost my mother on the very night my daughter was conceived. And celebrating her birthday always comes with a shadow of sadness.

My mom had been sick for awhile; she was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. And, at 5 o’clock on the morning of September 30, 2004, a knock at the door turned my world upside down. My 45-year-old mother had passed away a little after midnight. That night, God made my mom an angel in heaven—and he sent me an angel on earth.

He knew what I needed, because until the day that I lost her, I hadn’t realized how wonderful she was or how blessed I’d been to have her as my mom. My parents divorced when I was four years old, and my brothers and I had stayed with our dad. My mother had a lot of issues back in those days and the memories I have of the times we were with her are not the greatest. Some left scars—scars that, after she decided to leave us, were left to fester over time. By the time she returned five years later, those scars had left behind anger, heartache, and blame.

It was a struggle from the beginning, for both of us, to try to rebuild the relationship. Throughout my teenage years, it became a routine for us: she trying to earn my trust, love, and forgiveness; me, keeping her out and denying her everything she sought.

You see, I was a horrible daughter. I held on to all the bad things, bad memories, bad times, because remembering the good things and good times hurt a lot more than the bad. If I remembered the good, it made me question myself and why I wasn’t good enough. If I could be mad, I wouldn’t have to. Anger made it her fault, not mine.

I can understand so much more now that I’m older, now that I’m a mom. That’s the way of the world, the way it goes. But unfortunately, I lost my mother before I could understand. Before I realized that she wasn’t supposed to be perfect. She was human, she made mistakes, and she had her faults—but she was still my mother. I lost her before I could realize that I, too, made a lot of the same mistakes as a parent.

So, when I found out I was having a daughter, I was terrified. I thought for sure that a daughter would be my karma, that I’d have to pay the price for the mistakes I’d made, for the heartache and pain I’d given my mother. But, my baby girl was precious from the start. She didn’t bring the lesson I’d feared or probably deserved. She brought me and taught me what forgiveness really is. She’s shown me what kind of relationship I could have had—should have had—with my own mother. I no longer have to live with anger, with blame; I live with love, forgiveness, and joy.

The regret I feel may never go away, but if regret is the price I have to pay to have this amazing bond with my daughter, then I’ll pay it every day with interest, for as long as I live.

 My advice to everyone who still has a mother is love her, thank her, respect her, and cherish her. Try to understand that she does what she does and says what she says, because she loves you, because she wants to protect you. The world feels so much bigger and lonelier when she is no longer in it, so don’t take her for granted. Remember that she loved you first, and she’ll always love you most of all.

 I thought I had to have a daughter, to understand my mother. But I had to lose my mother, to understand my daughter.

Tabitha Milam

Tabitha Milam-Fisher is an experienced Columnists with a demonstrated history in the writing and editing industry. She writes a reoccurring nonfiction column in the newspaper, and writes for The Horror Tree magazine.