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What I Should Have Said: Women Reflect on Their Moms Who Died Young

"When you lose your mom young, it's like the training wheels you didn't know you had are yanked off your bike. You learn to ride just fine, but you always wonder if you'd be an even better biker if you had kept those extra wheels just a little longer...
Author and her mother

My mother died when I was 20. Most of our time was spent during my pre-teen and teen years, and like many that age, my relationship with my mom was emotionally fraught. Her over-involvement in my life often embarrassed me, like when she made a scene my freshman year because my English teacher was giving the class dumbed down versions of literary classics. I appreciate that now.

She always wanted to get manicures and pedicures with me, but not once did my teen self comply. I told her that it wasn't my thing, but it would have made her so happy. Now, I get mani/pedis all the time, and I wish she was with me.


After she died, I yearned for her involvement in my life. I took her and her love for granted. A mother's involvement and dedication is irreplaceable.I know if she was alive during my twenties, she would have played a big role in every aspect of my life—from my career down to my hair cuts. I often wonder how our relationship would have blossomed if she were still alive.

I spoke with other women who lost their mothers at a young age, and asked them what they appreciate most about their mothers now that they're gone.

Jena Cumbo was 19 when her mother died. In addition to being bipolar, her mom was fighting two types of cancer. She was in and out of the hospital for as long as Cumbo can remember. Even though she was always sick, she always seemed to get better.

"I think me and my brother took for granted that she would get better. I always assumed she would get better. I knew it (death) could happen but I never really thought she would actually die."

Cumbo often wonders if she would have made the same life decisions if her mom was alive.

"My dad wasn't really like a parent to me. When I moved to Los Angeles, he didn't really have an opinion. And I don't think he really has a clue what I do for work. My mom would have been more involved. I took the risks I did because she wasn't there to tell me 'no.' If she was, I may have been pressured or guilted into decisions that were safer than the ones that I made."


Anytime Cumbo is going through a stormy relationship or is about to move, she wishes she could call her mom.

Kristin Palardy was 23 when her mom died. "As I knew her, she was that nutty woman who danced around in the kitchen and drank Long Island iced teas and Boone's Farm Strawberry wine almost exclusively. She loved her Tigger sweatshirt, her kids, our two Saint Bernards, and that Eminem song that she called 'two trailer park girls go 'round the outside.' She went to livestock auctions and came home at midnight smelling like sawdust, with chickens and lambs to add to her menagerie. It wasn't Thanksgiving unless she was there pelting my sister and I with hot dinner rolls when we weren't looking. … Her loving pet name for her daughters was 'asshole', and she prided herself on her 'best breasts in town' t-shirt."

Palardy says she wishes she had asked her mom more about her past.

"At her funeral, my uncle told a story about her beating up a couple of bullies that were giving them a hard time on their walk to their uncle's flower shop. I wasn't surprised, but I was sad that she hadn't told me that story herself. I'd never asked."

Becky Golin was 23 when her mother died. "I miss the stupid little things, the tiny things that annoyed me but now make me laugh," she said. "When I was in a dressing room, she would have absolutely no respect for my privacy. She would just open the door and I would tell her, 'Mom! I am in my underwear!'"


Gollin drove a taxi while in college. She would get home late, and every morning her mom wanted to count the money Gollin made in tips.

"She would wake me up in the morning and ask me how much I made the night before. She would get so excited to count my money and see how much I made. It was adorable. Even if I did count the money, I wouldn't tell her because she loved doing it so much," she says.

Gollin says she wishes she could call her mom to ask her advice on little things, like cooking.

"Yeah, there's the Internet and other people but there are things you learn about (from your mom,)" she says.

Jenny Miller's mom passed away when Miller was 21. Now 42, Miller is a mother herself. She said she felt a deeper hurt after her first child was born. Even though she was surrounded by mom-friends, aunts, and a mother-in-law, it wasn't the same.

"I still felt this dark feeling of complete loneliness, like a piece of the puzzle was completely missing," she says.

"When you lose your mom young, it's like the training wheels you didn't know you had are yanked off your bike," says Anne Walls, who lost her mom when she was 20. You learn to ride just fine, but you always wonder if you'd be an even better biker if you had kept those extra wheels just a little longer,"

Walls said at the time of her mom's death, she felt gratitude that at least she was "sort of" a grown up, that at least her mom didn't die when she was a little kid.


"But now, at 37, I realize how young I was. How much I still had to learn. And how much pedaling I did for myself. But you know what? After getting married last year and now being pregnant with my first child, I'm pretty happy with the ride."

Kaysie Breer lost her mom at 18. She misses the way her mom put on perfume: two squirts every morning before leaving the house. When Breer was in college, her mother mailed her a card a week to say "hi." The ending sentence of every card stated, "Remember, always be kind." After college, even though they saw each other nearly everyday, her mom mailed a card once a week to Breer's apartment.

"When I was younger she used to tell me stories about her mother who died before I was born. I used to think 'okay mom I have heard this story 100 times, she is gone.' But now I tell my kids stories of my mother all the time and I know I repeat them over and over and I'm sure (my son) Matthew thinks the same thing I used to but I want them to have a sense of who she was and maybe a sense of why I am the way I am and how I was made into who I am."

Beckie Shellenberger was 22 when her mother died. "I miss the unconditional unending love. It never mattered what I did or said. There is nothing in this world I could have done that would have made her stop loving me," she says. " I miss not having to feel so strong all the time. I miss feeling like I'm not alone in this world. I miss the one person who knew me completely. … There is a huge mom shaped hole in my heart that can never be filled and I don't think it ever should. A mom is an amazing blessing to be treasured and as she loved me like no one ever could, I loved her like no one ever could."