Seventeen years.

Enough time to grow up, to transition from kid to teenager to emerging adult.

But when I think about that day I am a kid all over again, not 25 with a family of my own, a mother-daughter relationship of my own and me in the scary role of mother and role model and teacher and friend and life coach.

It’s crystal clear, that moment when she said, “Mommy has cancer.” I know what I was eating, that I was sitting by the large window with the blinds on the sill in her hospital room and my sisters and brother close by, my grandma sitting down and my dad standing off to the side near her bed.

And how a short time later, in this month 17 years ago she passed away in the night and I was just 8 1/2 and it wasn’t 17 years later but that moment that I grew up, that moment that I had to face the reality of death and really comprehend it for the first time and all I remember thinking is where will grandma live if we move out of her house, she can’t live by herself and she will need to move in with my aunt.

17 years and it’s a little easier but it’s your mom and it will always be the day when I wake up and feel my heart go heavy and sour and I mourn her loss.

But I also can celebrate her life, her time she had with us in those few short years.

I look forward to my years with my children, as their mother, thinking back to what I can remember and what she taught me.

Discipline. Lots of it and how it made me a polite and kind kid (most of the time, none are perfect).

Confidence. I recall crying once because a kid on the playground said I looked like a boy and I had my first lesson in boys and love and how if that was his opinion he wasn’t worth the time of day anyway.

Sharing. I may have learned it the hard way with three siblings (now four) but I learned and now teach my kids.

Singing. I remember her singing in the car and humming and I sing and hum to my children, in the car and at home.

Love. I know she loved us unconditionally.

These may be the skewed realities and memories from an eight year old’s mind but it’s the moments and things I choose to recall, not the painful ones as I watched her lose the battle of cancer and I try not to think what will happen when I am 34.

17 years and I am in the beautiful unknown of motherhood, tip-toeing my way through challenges everyday with three little souls that heard my heartbeat for nine months and depend on me for care and still all three snuggle close and calm at my heartbeat, at my life as their mother.

And this is the greatest gift she gave me: my life. Here I am, 17 years without her here but still reminded of her when I sing or when I want to take a long bath like she did or when I blow dry my hair and let it go wild and free with curls and stare shocked at the mirror because I can see her there, in me. My life now, as a mother, my most important role yet, stemming from the life she gave me.

17 years. Thank you mom for passing down the gift of motherhood. I’ll learn my own way through this glorious title and responsibility, taking what I remember of you and trying my best, thanking God for new graces each day and remembering to hug my kids everyday, multiple times a day. My prayer is that I make the best of my role and always do well for my kids. Thank you for the stubbornness you gave me, a gene they have yet to discover but I know I inherited, stubbornness to succeed and enjoy this gift of being a parent, a mom.

In loving memory of Christine Shaw, who passed away young from breast cancer and left 4 children behind who have blossomed into something beautiful. Much love to my family, always, and to my mother.