(Pictured: S. Tia Brown, Crystal Brown, the late Diane Brown and Simeon Brown)

I’ve always hated the holidays.

Don’t start bashing me; I’m no Grinch, in fact, I love giving. It’s just that growing up Christmas was a stressful time in my household. My mother was the single parent of three children and as an NYPD detective her strong working class salary didn’t go far. As the oldest, nosiest and most perceptive of her children, every time my mom exhaled – via venting on the phone, crying or temporarily losing her cool – I inhaled. I hated the holidays because there was never enough. Too little money. Too few gifts to give and get. Most importantly, happiness was scant…at least for me.

Today, the holidays are hard for a different reason. My mother succumbed to her battle with ovarian cancer on November 8, 2007. I was there. Watching her take her last breath was easy; she was sick, emaciated and in excruciating pain. She didn’t deserve to live like that and watching it broke my heart.  However, burying Diane is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Letting go of a single parent is so much more than the physical burial or intellectualizing the process of grief. What do you do when your reason for everything ceases to exist?

Growing up my mother, Diane Brown, was so much more than just a parent. She was a sister-friend. She believed in me. She dreamt for me. And, we were a team. Like many single parents, my mother picked one child who held that unique hybrid role of offspring/mate. Holla! That was me. My mom was the Beyonce of our household and I was the Kelly Rowland: a key player of our team but not the headliner of the show. While my mother reaped all the social praise for making it after a divorce, she praised me for making her life easier. And that became my role. I was the good student. The responsible eldest sibling. The strategic and financially savvy young adult. I saved. I bought homes. I was on TV. I had bylines in big magazines. While I was happy to follow my dreams, my motivation was never myself. It was all for my mom.

I knew she lived vicariously through my accomplishments – and I wanted to give us both one hell of ride. Most importantly, I knew if I ever fell she’d be there to pick me up. Then overnight that all changed. I don’t remember the day she told me she had to have her first procedure, but I’ll never forget the doctor’s face when he came out of the operating room. I knew my mom didn’t have long. Accepting the impending death of my mother was a cinch in comparison to the realization of how weak I was without her. All these years I thought I was her strength, but in actuality she was mine. Her death has taught me a lot about living, especially for myself. 

I love and appreciate my mother more in death than life. I’ve always known there are a lot of incompetent and selfish parents and was grateful of how loving Diane was, but the biggest gift my mother gave me was wings. She wanted all three of her children to be capable of flying on their own. In hindsight, her faith in my abilities gave me the confidence to push forward when I was scared or felt pangs of inadequacy. My mother’s selfless love and lack of materialism forced me to value what’s truly important – even when I get caught up in the hype. Lastly, my mom’s vision, spirituality and audacity to dream gave me hope. Her death definitely put a lot of oil on my feathers, but I’m soaking it of f and prepping to soar.

Today, I’m learning how to love the holiday season for me. I want to appreciate what life has to offer, regardless of what I have financially, because I believe the only thing guaranteed is love. It may not be from where you want it, but it’s always around. This holiday season I tried to smile more, love more and enjoy more. And oh yeah, deal with the reality that my mom is not here. In all honesty I know it’s because that’s what would have made her smile, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Some things will never change.

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