From Moments to Memories

I’m a crier. I have never admitted that until this moment. I mean, my friends and family have probably known this for years, but Denial remained my middle name- even while tears streamed down my cheeks during country music videos- until today.  I’ve cried four times this morning- three from different articles my friends shared on Facebook and one from a speech on television. Four times. I can no longer turn a blind [damp] eye to my condition. One article was about a couple that survived the Boston Marathon bombing and wed last month, one was about Pharrell crying (chain reaction!) because he was so moved by the worldwide reaction to his song “Happy,” and one was about how moms have the toughest job in the world. I know what you’re thinking: why are you reading so many articles? One might ask the same of you since you’re here reading mine…

When I cry in the middle of watching Les Miserable on Broadway (Eponine’s death…I can’t) or when I see dogs reunited with their owners, there is no doubt that my tear ducts are a bit too free-flowing. However, I will say that the speech I watched during this morning’s coverage of the one year anniversary of the Boston bombing gave me every right to get a little watery. Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a survivor who lost her leg during the blast, gave a beautiful tribute to her fellow survivors, the victims, and to Boston’s strength. To wrap up, she said this: “The biggest lesson I have learned is that something in your life, in anyone’s life, can go horrifically wrong at any second. But it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.”

I’m a big fan of taking phrases that we’ve all heard a million times and deeply reflecting on their significance. After all, we must keep in mind that there is a reason we’ve heard these phrases before- in this case, “Life can change in a moment” or “Make every second count.” Life really can change in a moment. And because of that, we have to make every second count. The survivors of the Boston bombing woke up that morning, brushed their teeth (hopefully), probably cracked a joke with their friends, maybe looked forward to a beer later in the day, and then- mid-cheers- lost limbs. Though the Boston bombing and other random acts of violence make headlines and are indeed devastating, lives are also unexpectedly changed or taken by car accidents, mother nature, or cancer (among countless other possibilities). Not for the sake of morbidity, rather for the sake of motivation to live fully, do I bring up the many ways our lives can negatively transform or disappear in just a moment.

You see, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012. She died in September 2012. It wasn’t a freak accident or a sudden collapse- which makes us lucky. However, the second I got that call, my life changed. I felt it shift. I was standing outside of a steakhouse on the lower east side of Manhattan, wearing a red sleeveless turtleneck, about to meet friends for a birthday dinner. Though she had months of chemo and hopefulness ahead of her, I heard a resolve in her voice- this was her time.


Mom jumped into this picture with me right before I ran onstage at Busch Gardens [yes, I know this is wildly embarrassing]

My first thoughts were of what life would be like without my mother. The day I pick out my wedding dress and she’s not there. When I have screaming, crying kids and I need someone to tell me what to do. The first time I sing on Broadway or publish a book or cook something other than mac and cheese. You know, all the dreams in life (I made spaghetti the other night- does that count?). Once I grieved those moments, I moved onto the ones we had already shared together. When she sewed us matching dresses for Easter when I was little. When she sat on the stairs and listened to my brother and me sing and play the piano for hours. That time she wore her fanny pack to Busch Gardens and unabashedly took pictures of me during my performances. When I called her almost every day I lived in New York to take her on my rollercoaster of emotions that happens to every young soul who braves the Big Apple.

During the grief that came (and comes) as a result of moments we’ll never share and moments we were lucky to share, I noticed that the latter hurt the most to ponder. People often assume that the worst part about losing someone is all of the time you’ll miss out on, or perhaps any regrettable moments that were handled poorly or neglected altogether. My experience is not so. Rather, when all you have of a person are memories, those existing memories become far more emotionally valuable than imagined ones. Remembering my mom’s voicemails that always started with “Oh, hi sweetie, it’s Mom” or “Shannon, it’s Mom” (when I was in trouble) triggers more of a reaction than thinking of how great it would have been if I’d spent time learning from her how to cook. Remembering crossing the finish line together during our five miler Turkey Trot trumps wondering what it’d be like for her to have known I became Miss New York. Knowing how her hugs feel outweighs guessing what she’d say the next time I am broken-hearted.

Actual moments > imagined moments. That was the Boston survivor’s point when she said “…it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.” The moments that we actually live are the most important- not the could have, should have, will do. Yes, make choices with your time that you won’t regret and get excited about the moments to come, but more crucially- live in the now. Enjoy listening to voicemails from your mom. Befriend coworkers so that your time in the office isn’t strictly for something as fleeting as money. Tell someone you love them if you do. Reflect on the beauty in the world while you’re exercising. Pray when you’re distressed. Laugh when something is really funny, even if no one else thinks it is. Dance at weddings and dance in your car. All of those moments count. They really do- so let them.



Filed under General Musings

5 responses to “From Moments to Memories

  1. Ashley

    A beautiful post Shannon! I have wonderful memories of your mom. She was a beautiful woman in so many ways.

  2. Oh Shan, your writing is so real. Proud of you!

  3. Kitty

    Shannon, I could not agree more. When I think of the moments my dad and I will not share in the future I do become sad, but there is no comparison to when I think about the moments we were lucky enough to share before his death. It’s not the large scale things that start the water works (my future graduation, wedding, children), but rather the smaller, day-to-day things we used to have (the daily texts, our conversations, the books we read together). Its so hard to articulate these things and I have almost felt a little guilty (prior to reading this) to tell people that I am going to be ok on my wedding day without my dad. Thank you for so beautifully and truthfully describing what it is like to lose a parent. The silver lining to losing a loved one is that you value life in a whole new, beautiful kind of way. Love you ❤

  4. Laraine Breitenberg

    Shannon, I really appreciated this post.. Having lost my mom at a tender age and having walked those streets so many times in Boston when Matt and I were first married (right where the finish line was),,,it brings back lots of memories . We lived up there for 10 years.

    Pls let me know the next time you are in VB – would love to get together. I am so glad you have Jean as your bonus mom ( and I had lots of people that came along side me) , but I know it’s really hard and most of the world thinks you get over it faster than you really think you do. Don’t want to sound too sad, but just realistic…..I am sure your writing about it helps.

    Hope you have a great Easter – will you stay in DC?

    We have a gang here for the weekend and it should be fun…I’m sure you can remember the Easter Egg Hunts when Drew was little – out tomorrow to get some basket fillers for little Wills and Isobel .

    Just a quick question, since you are such a G granny – what does one put in an Easter Box – looks like Chinese take-out with polka dots…for a 3 month old baby girl?????

    xxx, Lola

  5. Thanks, Shannon! This is a wonderful piece that reveals not just a real truth that we should never forget but also shows the depth and breathe of your beautiful mother’s influence in your life. She may be gone physically but her spirit and love live on in you every day. She’s smiling down on you today for sharing her and your love with so many others in this blog entry. Well done!

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