THE BLOG

First Mother's Day Without Mom

05/18/2015 02:25 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

I made it through my first Mother's Day without my mom (a true feat and anyone who has done the same, I wish I could give you a free vacation of your choice). And -- side note -- one of the things I'm really tired of is people saying, "Oh, the first year is the hardest." Now, don't get me wrong; I appreciate their sentiment, but I am not really looking forward to 365 days of pure suckage. One thing I know for sure is I will get stronger, for me and for all the ways my mom just couldn't.

From my earliest childhood memories (and I am sure I am not alone in this), I tried to save Mommy. Eventually, after almost 40 years, my mother slipped through my fingers and solidified my mission.

Daily, I work with people to help them understand that changing history is really just changing yourself.

And currently, I have this little journal that sits at a high point in my bedroom where I have started writing to my mom. As a little kid, I'd often write. But then, it was writing notes to God. I would fold them into specific shapes, placing them behind stuffed animals at high points in my room, often checking to see if Heaven had picked up my mail. Sometimes, the notes were indeed gone.

As I was scouring the house after Mom died, searching for what to put out at her funeral, I found the notes in my baby book. There it was -- all the evidence of my first coping attempts at age 7. The things my mom could do, she did (get me a canopy bed or a fun sleepover with Tracey) and the things she couldn't, she probably cried or dealt with in her own way -- all of it now archived in my baby book. Because things like "not getting a divorce," "making scary fights disappear" or "bringing back my dead cat Tinkerbell back" were -- well -- impossible.

So, here I am realizing if the notes gave me peace at 7 years old, maybe at 40, this method could offer similar relief. So, I write to Mom -- I ask questions about my future, share my fears, ask for strength and, of course, she gets some rants -- all in a red Moleskine journal (she loved red and yes, it is the only red thing in my house). I am trying to cope the best way I can, identifying the struggle and learning how to let go. These are two things my mother could not do for herself.

She held on to everything that had ever happened to her, replayed it and let it fuel a rage and depression that ultimately took her life. Her struggle defined her; her negative narrative snipped her wings and as she grew old alone, she was pissed and often used Chardonnay to numb her pain.

But man, did my mother love me. She loved me in ways she could not love herself. And now I am faced with this daunting task to love myself the way my mother loved me.

And, of course, that feels impossible, because my mother was super passionate about one thing: motherhood. She was so damn good at it that when her nest was empty, I don't think she knew quite how to move forward for herself. That was when the drinking really began. But when she was a full-time mother, she did not have time. She did not make room for her needs, practice any self-care, nor would she ever let herself be loved again romantically because she had two children to bury herself into, and so her pain was put on hold.

My mom could never admit vulnerability; she did not forgive and was incapable of caring for herself the way she did for others.

In short, she batted love away as a defense, and so at 67, she died alone. I still can't believe it. At her wake, I met a man, and the way he cried and spoke about Mom, I could see that this man had truly loved her, but that she wouldn't let him "love her that much." The next day, my aunt handed me a poem the man had written. I peered out the window of the hearse, glancing back at the long procession of cars filled with people following and thought to myself, Mama, all these people loved you and you just could never receive love, only give it.

And then I realized that, often, I am the same way.

I am amazing at giving love, providing space for people to be open and honest, but I am not good at letting love in. But my only job in this life is to give and receive love and kindness -- or at least it should be. And, perhaps, if Mom had let herself be loved and cared for, she would have spent Mother's Day with me having one of our fun New York City sleepovers, watching Bugsy Malone and going to a delicious dinner.

And yet, I couldn't save her. But I can save myself.

Now I have to be the change. Gandhi 101, right? I must love and accept myself the way my mother never could love and accept herself. I must learn how to let go. I must receive kindness and not assume every man will bail or let my adversity define me. Most of all, I must take care of myself and not feel guilty about it. Because if not now, when? And so, I do this for me and, Mama, I do this even more so for you. I will give myself the gifts I wish you could have given yourself. Happy Mother's Day, Happy Every Day. Changing history is truly changing yourself.