A Letter From a 21 Year Old Orphan
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A Letter From a 21 Year Old Orphan

It gets easier, not better. 

A Letter From a 21 Year Old Orphan

“Daddy stopped breathing this morning.” I am 11 years old and with those words, my entire world shatters. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I can’t process what I’m being told. For a minute I just stare at my brother, one of my favorite people in the world. Then it hits me, like a tsunami. The tears, pain, anger, sadness. Eventually it stops, and I become numb. 

“She’s gone hun. Your momma has passed.” I am 21 years old and with those words, my entire world shatters. I knew what was coming. I was prepared for this. I had said my goodbyes, made peace with it. But when I hear those words, it feels like I’m being ripped apart from the inside. Don't cry. Hold it together. Be strong. You can do this. I go back inside the bar, take a shot, order another. I grab my brother and bring him outside to tell him the news. There’s a certain kind of poetry to it; he told me when our dad died, I told him when our mom died. It would almost be beautiful if it weren’t so damn sad. We cry, take shots, make a toast to the life she had. And again I am numb. 

My dad was sick my whole life, everyone was prepared for him to go except for me. No one told me what was happening. All of a sudden he was just gone. Poof. But then again, how do you tell an 11 year old that her hero is dying? How do you prepare her for that? I didn’t handle it well, to say the least. I thought I had to be strong, because everyone else was so sad. So I bottled my emotions up tight as can be. I didn’t let a tear escape for months after that first day. You can probably see why that’s a bad thing. An already moody pre-teen holding in all emotions tighter than a new bottle of champagne. So naturally, one day I popped. I went from being this so-sweet-it’s-annoying little girl to the biggest bitch most people had ever met, just in a matter of months. I lost myself when we lost him. And it took years to find the person I used to be and bring her back. But finally I did. And a few months later, in typical fashion, Momma got cancer, and my world was ending all over again. 

Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. The Silent Killer. That’s for damn sure. “Hey Mrs. Totten, happy birthday! Oh by the way, you have cancer and it’s so bad we don’t want to touch you. Here’s a pamphlet.” Okay, so that’s probably not how the conversation went, but I feel like it was pretty similar. Months of chemotherapy. Months of testing. Months of being pumped full of drugs to keep her alive, while her body tried to destroy itself. My mother went from being a healthy woman in her late 50’s, weighing 180 lbs, to a dying woman who looked almost 90 years old, and weighed as much. She was a skeleton with skin, walking around the house acting like nothing was wrong. And then she beat it. Mom - 1, Cancer - 0. For a few months, until it came back. “It doesn’t seem to be as aggressive this time,” they said. She started chemotherapy again, and everything was fine. Until it wasn’t. The cancer took everything out of her until one day she couldn’t stand on her own. Then she couldn’t hold a glass to her mouth to drink, then she couldn’t do anything for herself. 

Her last days were the worst days of my life. She was on more pain medicine than I can remember. Two oxy a day, three fentynol patches at one time, liquid morphine, and that’s just to name a few. She couldn’t focus on anything or anyone. Her eyes were glazed over like an addict going through withdraws. On her last day, we all were there. We all took turns telling her we loved her and we would be okay without her. It was a lie, we knew it and so did she. But it’s what you tell someone you love when they are on their literal death bed.  Finally, it was my turn. I held her hand, fought back tears, tried to sound strong. Not that she noticed, since she was so doped up. But after repeating over and over “I’ll be okay, I’ll be strong, it won’t be like when we lost daddy,” she looked up at me. Her eyes were clear as ever. She heard, she understood. She started to cry, and wiped the tears that were escaping from my eyes. “I love you,” she said. I left shortly after. I couldn’t be there when it happened. I said what needed to be said, but I was not going to watch the life leave my mother’s body. So my brother and I did what we do best, we drank. We drank with our friends, who knew what was coming just as we did. We drank with people we hadn’t talked to for years, but because in small towns everyone knows everything, they all knew what was happening to us. We drank, we got the call, we cried, and we drank some more until the sun came up, then we knew it was time for bed. 

I handled this loss better than the last. I knew what to expect. The mounds of people rushing to tell my family and I how sorry they were for our loss, how great of a woman she was, how much she will be missed. As if we didn’t already know how amazing she was. The day she died I got (no joke) at LEAST 200 messages from people, friends and strangers, telling me how sorry they were for my loss. Everyone comes to show love when someone dies. It’s morbid, but it’s true. And what are we supposed to say? It’s okay that you feel bad that you haven’t spoken in years and now she’s dead? No. We sit there and accept all of the condolences like the well behaved people we aren’t. I can’t count how many times I’ve said “Thank you, we knew it was coming. Yeah I’m doing okay. She’s in a better place now,” since August. 

Two things were said in the week that she passed that I will always remember. The first, was at the funeral. “Her life could seem ordinary to people. She didn’t win any major awards, there are no statues for her. But as evidence by all of the people here, she was extraordinary in her ordinary.” She was extraordinary in her ordinary. That stuck with me. I think about it almost every day. We didn’t have money, we didn’t have the right last name, but she was such a kind and goodhearted person that everyone still knew her, and still loved her. Later that night I was talking to my brother, and he said something I will never forget. “Let mom in. Let some of the good and kindness that she had in, don’t be so angry all of the time. Let her in.” I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I understand it more now. I see things that make me think of her and smile, like the sunsets and wildflowers and animals. I have more patience with people than I used to.

I lost myself when we lost dad, but in losing mom I found a whole new side of me. A side of me that is kind and goodhearted, someone most people know and like. It will take years to have a reputation close to what my parents had, but they were both loved by so many. I don’t know where I would be without them, but I know it wouldn’t be good. I can only hope that one day people will look at me and think of them, and that one day I can confidently say they would be proud of me and where I am at in my life.

This all started when I had a breakdown at work. One of my best friends told me I should write down how I feel. “Even if you don’t want to post it anywhere, it’ll probably help you feel better.” So that’s what I did. And after reading it over and changing it 10000 times I decided I should post it. Because even if only one of you sees this, maybe it’s what you needed. Maybe it reminds you of someone you lost, and that you aren’t alone in this. That especially during the holidays you know they are with you all of the time. And that they love you so much. Or maybe you need it to remind you to be grateful that you haven’t lost anyone the way I and so many others have. Be thankful that you still have time to spend with the people you love the most, and be sure not to take them for granted. It’s used so often it’s almost a cliche, but the saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” is one of the truest things I have ever heard. Tell the people you care for that you love them, and do it often. Don’t go to bed angry with anyone. Smile as often as possible. Look for the beauty in the small things. Love yourself, and love others. And be kind to all, you never know what they’ve been through. They might not have it as easy as you. 

But most of all, remember that you are not alone. 


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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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