The other day, when I heard about Brittany Murphy's tragic death, I felt more than shock. At 32, Brittany was only a year younger than me. But my reaction was a maternal one, the reaction of someone who has a daughter: I felt so, so sorry for her mother.
Although I'm the mom of a 6-year-old girl, I'm not used to thinking of myself as especially motherly - except when it comes to my own daughter, of course. If I'm out in the city with a girlfriend, or lusting after ridiculously expensive shoes, I can still feel like the 24-year-old I once was, with the world ahead of me and no one to worry about except myself.
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Lately, though, my life has been marked by moments that show me how much the world of mothers and daughters - all mothers and daughters - has come to matter to me. I read Twilight and felt concerned for Bella, thinking that Edward every mother's worst nightmare. I can't possibly go see The Lovely Bones, because it deals with the violent death of a child. In these moments I'm suddenly reminded that I live on the other side of a great divide, the divide between my post-adolescence and my motherhood, and that the way I look at the world has been forever changed.
Brittany's death disturbed me not only because her life was cut short, or because her mother is just beginning a journey of grief that will last years, if not forever. Her death also taps into my greatest fear, the source of my most grown-up anxiety: that I'm responsible for bringing another person into the world, and teaching her how to be strong, how to protect and love herself, and how to recognize and avoid the world's dark corners and potential pitfalls. And that I might not do it right.
I love being a mommy, but it's terrifying. I don't have a son, so I don't know what the particular fears are that come with having a boy. But I know that trying to shepherd a little girl through a world that so often seems designed to chew them up and spit them out can seem like an almost superhuman task.
I didn't know Brittany Murphy. I didn't know what her life was like, what fears she lived with, what insecurities preyed on her. We all draw our own conclusions. I've read the news stories, of course, about the prescription drugs, the rumored anorexia, the seemingly shady husband. And I've seen the photos of Brittany, as she changed from the adorable, funny sidekick in Clueless to a waif-like, excessively fragile glamour girl.
I've also read how Sharon Murphy moved to California with her 13-year-old daughter Brittany, to support her in her career. From what I gather, they were very close. In fact, Sharon lived with Brittany and her husband Simon Monjack and - horribly - it was Sharon who found her daughter's lifeless body.
That's the kind of thing that will stay with me long after other awful events in the news have faded away. I didn't know Brittany Murphy and I don't know her mother. But just the same, my heart, which is now so much more vulnerable for the love it holds for my own daughter, goes out to both of them.
I read that Brittany once said, "Home is where my mom is."
I can't think of anything more lovely for a mom to hear. And I can't think of anything more devastating for her to lose.
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