Maya’s unfolding life

Being a mother who outlives her child is mind blowing. It’s a lot of other things too, of course. But on this day, the 23rd anniversary of Maya’s death, it’s the mind-bending aspect that grabs me.

Maya’s beautiful face, her fierce brown eyes that snapped with wit and energy, her cloud of blonde hair are very much alive in my memory. When you die at 19, you go out at peak beauty, at least by American cultural norms. Maya was a rose about to blossom. She was on the brink of life.

Close up 17

Six months from now we will celebrate Maya’s 43rd birthday. I was 43 when Maya died. So this year, a mysterious circle is forming. There are so many “I wonders” inside the circle of synchronicity, so much conjecture.

How is it possible that my daughter would have four decades under her belt? She’d have wrinkles, for gosh sakes, and likely terrible PMS, if she took after me. She’d have kids, probably, a career, definitely, and a series of successes and failures to mold her middle age. She’d have regrets.

There is a dividing line in my life: Before Maya Died (BMD) and After Maya Died (AMD). BMD I really believed I could control stuff – well at least I struggled desperately to maintain that fantasy. AMD, I knew for certain I couldn’t.

The transformation that began with Maya’s death is still under way; its ripples widen my life 23 years later. Children change us whether they live or die. But if they die, your world shifts on its axis. I had no choice but to re-examine everything. And as a writer, I had to write about it.

Swimming with Maya is an exploration of what it meant to be a mother to Maya and Meghan. It is a portrait of a family, as well as of the one who died. John Donne was right – we aren’t islands, we are all connected in a web of life and relationships.

Maya, age 18 months, at Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis

Maya, age 18 months, at Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis

Our dead are with us, always. As my spiritual mentor Rev. Margaret Stortz said at Maya’s memorial service, “It is love that binds from plane to plane.” And as Maya’s stepfather Ron said at her funeral, “This was love in the trenches.”

My connection to Maya – and hers to me – is eternal. Our love was fierce, passionate, and often turbulent, at least during her teenage years. Thankfully, she lived long enough for us to heal a lot of the inevitable wounds.

I would love to have a glass of champagne with Maya today, to toast her incredible, shooting star life, and hear her version of the trajectory that catapulted her into the mystic, as the Van Morrison song says.

So I raise an imaginary glass to Maya. “Here’s to you, honey! You left an imprint on my heart and soul that is indelible. I’ve walked over hot coals for you. And every one has left me changed for the better. Wherever you are, I salute you!”