After a woman meets her 'Prince Charming,' walks down the aisle, and raises children with the love of her life, there’s reason enough to expect a fairytale ending.
But what if the script changes drastically…tragically?
I often asked myself this over the past year as I watched my mother, 56, pick up the torn pages of her fairytale following the death of my father. Having been married for 29 years, 25 of which were spent raising my brother and me, marriage and motherhood was almost all my mother had ever known. But when her husband unexpectedly died of heart failure, my mom was forced to re-write her story.
Many cultural critics blame Disney love tales for young girls' obsession with marriage; they've yet to note that Disney also fails to provide instructions on what to do after you’ve been given the wrenching task of burying your soul mate.
I can still remember the day my dad passed. As my mom and I walked through the hospital corridors, she sobbed on my shoulder and asked, “What are we going to do?”
In just a few short hours, my mom’s entire world had changed without warning. Her emotional inquiry at the hospital is one that I’m sure goes through the minds of many women who, through unexpected tragedy, go from blissful wives to devastated widows. But many of these women’s stories are never told. Unless it happens to you, the sorrow of losing the love of your life is nothing more than a distant terror.
While losing a father at 22 was most certainly challenging for me, I can't say that it measures up to the pain of a middle-aged woman who had been married to that same man for more than half of her life.
Now the sole caretaker of my brother, Darius, who has autism, my mom assumed a role no woman would dare audition for. Not only did she have to mourn and move forward with the loss of her partner, she had to adjust to a life far different from the one she had built with him…while ensuring that my brother lived life as normal as possible. With a changed household income of and her youngest child (me) moving out to be on his own, my mother decided to move from New York to North Carolina, in a city not too far from her parents. I watched my mother in amazement as she, just months after my father’s death, packed up nearly 20 years of stuff filled with the memories she had created with him. Boxing up personal mementos like wedding photos, my dad’s cooking apron embroidered with his name, and the large collection of books housed in his back office were very real reminders that life, as she knew it, had changed forever.
I was astonished at how my mom, in such a short time, managed to find a new home in a city where she knew absolutely no one, in addition to finding an adequate adult program for my brother. In spite of it all, I saw the beam in her eyes as she admired her new dwelling place, where she would begin her life’s next chapter.
But even with a beautiful new home in a quiet city in the South, life remained bittersweet. For this was the home she and my dad had always dreamed of–a home he never got the opportunity to see.
Who would imagine Cinderella in a lavish castle without her prince charming to share it all with?
That's because fairy tales don't prepare you for your worst nightmare. Only real life can teach you that lesson–one that my mom was never prepared for. But then again, who really ever is?
Rather than finding a script to follow my mom wrote her own. With every day that passed she pieced back the pages to her life. Slowly but surely I saw new life reemerge from the emotional rubble my mom had endured, as she turned the worst possible experience into a narrative of triumph. But it wasn’t easy, and it continues to be a struggle every day.
I’m truly taken aback when I think about the resilience of my mother. It takes an incredibly strong woman to lose love, move from the only home you’ve ever known and start life anew with no true blueprint to help you along the way. As difficult as it may be, she looked tragedy in the face with her head held up high, even when deep inside her heart was in pieces.
Now the story continues, as my mom and brother adjust to their new home and lives in North Carolina. My mom is in the process of choosing a new church to join and has found a new hobby in exercising. Though she remains emotionally scarred, she has no visible wounds to show for it. I guess in some way we always get our happily ever after, even if it’s not necessarily the one we always envisioned.