That is how long my mom has been gone. I was 19 — still a child — when she died in the early morning hours of July 27, 2009.
And when I say that her death was the defining moment of my young life, I mean it. There is not a day that passes that I don’t ask myself, “Would she be proud of me?”
That is a heavy, heavy weight to live under.
I have devoted many words on this blog to talking about losing my mom at a young age. Losing your mother before your life really begins changes you in ways that you don’t fully understand until you’re older and your life is more established.
For me, I realized that even though at 19 I felt grownup, 19 was, in fact, too young.
19 years was not enough time with my mom, and I learned what all motherless daughters come to know — the memories of times past aren’t what is most painful. What breaks your heart over and over is living through all the moments your mom won’t be there for — birthdays, college graduations, your wedding, the birth of your first child, etc.
That is why planning my wedding as a motherless daughter was awful at times. Your wedding and all of its chaotic planning and madness is just something your mom should be there for.
In the months leading up to our big day, I knew I wanted to honor my mom at our wedding, but I wasn’t sure how.
My husband-to-be and I talked about it and decided that a paper lantern send-off at sunset in her memory would be beautiful.
We planned out the details of it, but the week before the wedding I canceled those plans.
I am a quiet person, and I just did not want all of our guests to have their eyes on me during what was sure to be an emotional moment.
That didn’t seem like the best way to remember my mom.
So, I thought about other ways to include her — ways that wouldn’t call much attention to her absence.
I decided I would wear her wedding rings on my right hand as my “something old.”
I actually used to wear my mom’s wedding rings regularly as a way to feel close to her, and I am glad I decided to bring them out of their box for this special day.
I caught myself looking down at my hand throughout the hustle and bustle of the day, and it calmed me to take those moments to pause and think about her.
The second thing I did to honor my mom was recreate a photo of her on the day she married my dad.
My mom was a beautiful woman, there is no denying it, and I have always been captivated by this image of her.
When my photographer pulled me aside before the ceremony to take these photos, it was one of the most peaceful moments of the entire day.
As I sat in front of the window in the bridal suite of our plantation house venue, I wondered what my mom had been thinking 30-something years before when she gazed out of a similar window on the day she became a wife.
Was she scared? Was she excited? Was she nervous about the future? About the child she was carrying?
I thought I was just taking a picture that I could hang next to the one I have of my mom, but it turns out that the quiet reflection was exactly what I needed to connect to her before I walked down the aisle.
I felt more like her daughter in that moment than I have in the eight years since she passed, and that was a beautiful experience.