It’s hard, in the wake of tragedy, not to hold on to the last ties to your past. I don’t mean to make it sound like we had some massive, tragic event like those who lost loved ones in war or a terrorist attack. But loss is loss, no matter how you cut it, and losing someone with a deep connection is tragic by any definition of the word. Watching your life start to fall to pieces and shift, spectacularly, is so abrupt that you cannot help, as I’ve done all too often here, but reflect and grasp at the past as it starts to get more and more distant from you.
This was the situation for my oldest daughter, Abbi, when she made the decision – quite painfully it seems – to pursue drama even as just a future Senior in high school. Abbi, after all, fought, clashed, grunted at, and ruffled against her mother on more occasions than I have fingers and toes to count. That doesn’t mean she didn’t love nor ignored her lessons or advice, however wrong. The biggest arguments were likely because they were so much alike. Abbi has the same drive, pride, and push that her mother, my dear wife Andrea, had all through her life. Abbi is furious if she gets a lower grade than she’s striving for. She’s aggravated when someone tells her she can’t do something. More than anything, she wants to succeed, not be successful, but to succeed.
So when her mother told her over and over and over again that she was silly for wanting to go into drama or acting or directing, screenwriting, whatever . . . she listened. The little pieces of her mother that listened to the logic and the drive to make money over being happy was too strong. Losing that Mom in the middle of the buildup to college was a catalyst that started a reaction she hadn’t really been willing or able to face a year ago. The tendency, and the sheer desire to be honest, to try and “do what she would have wanted” is strong, particularly when you miss that person so very much. It’s not even like losing your brother or Grandmother or . . . your spouse. It’s losing your mother, one of those guiding lights and prolific influences on your life.
Even if she was still alive, coming to terms with the fact that your Mom is wrong is a horribly hard thing to bear. When you’re a teenager, there’s still some of the thought that your parents are invincible. The immortality and wisdom you’ve foisted upon them since you were able to string words together still has its tug. Doesn’t matter how much the hormone changes push you to rebel, there’s still the 4-year-old who sees your Mom and Dad as the person you run to when things just don’t go right. When Abbi struggled with “the rest of her life” over the last few months she really did feel torn apart. She kept struggling with where to go to school. She wanted to be closer to family, so looked at Nebraska. She wanted to be what her Mom told her she wanted to be: a pharmacist or doctor or scientist. Not some broke artist living with 3 people in an apartment in Soho.
But today her world took a paradigm shift.
Yesterday I wrote about her letter, the decision to take Advanced drama and try to embrace what in her heart she’s always wanted: to go into a dramatic field. There was still the rest of her schedule remaining, though, and AP biology and Physiology . . . they all remained. There was still that last tie to the safety net; the last connection to what her Mom wanted. But she had to let it go. The schedule she had to take was only possible if she shifted everything . . . classes had to be dropped in order to retain the drama classes.
“It was the last grip I had on the safety net,” she told me when she showed me next year’s schedule. Her counselor was worried. “Mom wanted me to have something that was stable,” was her line, and I could see the internal struggle going on within her little head.
“I get that,” told her. I really did. “But Mom’s not here, kiddo. I wish I could tell you she was right, but I never agreed with her philosophy . . . and she doesn’t have to face whether she’s right or wrong. She got to pressure you with this and leave, sticking you with what she wanted and not being able to argue your side of things.”
“I know,” she said meekly, “and I let it go. It was just really hard.”
It’s a harsh thing to say to your daughter, and it may sound a little angry – and it is to a degree. You get angry when you’re grieving. The fact remains that she did leave. Maybe, like so many other people tell me they’ve seen, she’s watching up there and trying to help and influence those who need her help, but here we are, precisely when we need her most, and she’s gone. I loved Andrea desperately, but we’re left to stumble through our lives while she gets to be at peace. I’m tremendously happy that she’s no longer suffering. She doesn’t have the constant pain in her knees. She doesn’t have to struggle losing the weight she couldn’t shed. She doesn’t have to fight her depression or deal with arguments with her parents any more.
It’s really a bit unfair for my daughter to have to try and follow the plan of her mother when she neither wants it nor believes in it. It’s too easy to resign yourself to doing what you don’t want for the cause of “doing it for Mom” without realizing that you’re going to hate your job and your life for every part of it. Do I wish I was a touring musician? Yes. Is it my Mom’s fault? No. I made choices . . . ones that included marrying Andrea and having Abbi . . . and I wouldn’t change either one. I found a way to be creative and to record and to have a chance at playing music with my brother. That’s worthwhile. 90% of your day is spent working, so why should you be miserable doing it? Sure, she’ll be slinging coffee or busing tables . . . but it’s all with the goal of doing what she wants in mind. That’s one of the amazing stops off the road she deserves.
Now, Abbi’s looking at colleges that cater to what she wants to do. For the first time, she’s considering New York or the East Coast. She knows I’ll visit and talk with her every day. She’s so talented that there’s no reason she won’t succeed. She’s a better writer than I am and she enjoys acting like I enjoy playing music.
It’s so easy to keep that grip on the past. It’s the bravest thing in the world to let it go.