You see it on tv. Someone answers the phone with a normal expression on their face, and after several seconds, their face drops. You can hear the denial in their voice when they say, “No”. Their eyes start to well up with tears. They then turn to the nearest person, who’s already thinking the worst, and break the bad news. “Your mom passed some time this morning in her sleep.” My response? “Stop fuckin’ around!” (I was talking to my grandmother) I had hoped that my little brother was playing some cruel joke on my grandmother, for which I would beat the hell out of him for. Most of us don’t think of our mother passing when we’re only 20 years old. We figure they’ll be able to see us graduate from college, and get married, buy our first house, have our first child (and if we’re really lucky, our first grandchild), and be there to simply watch us grow at least semi-old. Thinking of that, I felt and still feel horrible when I think of what my little brother (Adam) missed out on. Karen wasn’t there to see him to go to his last Homecoming Game, Winter Ball, Talent Show, any of his extracurricular or sporting events, his Senior Prom or his graduation. Karen wasn’t there to see him off to college, or to even cry each day during the summer until he finally left for school. That first college exam? I, and not Karen, received a phone call from Adam. I (the person with NO study habits) had to advise him on how to prepare for his second. Campus life, the dorms, pledging to a fraternity, beer, parties, girls, class, academic advisors, food, weed, envious guys…I had to walk him through that. It’s not the hardest task of all time, but it’s very difficult to be 21 (and not even finished with college yourself) and have to pretty much walk your little brother through his first year of college. Adam and I don’t have the same safety net that most have. Losing our father at an early age, all we knew growing up was Karen. When we screw up now, we’re on our own. We don’t have the luxury of having even one parent as a safety net. It’s hard having had to walk this path, seemingly alone, for 4 years, but I truly feel it has made the both us better, and stronger. “This world stops and feels sorry for no one, Erik.” Karen said that to me about a trillion times. Losing a parent is an indescribable feeling. I never knew I could shed so many tears in a 7-day period. October 13, 2005 was the worst day of my life. It was a day that Karen told me would eventually come, but I NEVER thought it would come so soon. I just figured she was pitching me the same ol’ “Don’t take me for granted” malarkey that most parents do when trying to lay a temporary guilt trip on us. Like most of us would have, I brushed it off and kept it moving. It’s been weird since then, undoubtedly. She’s missed girlfriends, my fraternity, friends, academic and professional accomplishments, and just all types of various things that every mother would (and should) want to be a part of. I’ve never resented the fact that I grew up without a father. Or that I’ve never had a “father figure”. Karen was all my brother and I needed. This was a woman that was willing to take on any boy, girl, man or woman for us. She was our warrior. In no way, shape or form maternal, but we knew there was nothing that would stop her from giving us the best that she possibly could. The loudest parent in the stands. Or awards assembly. Or Spelling Bee. (Yeah, the Spelling Bee) Even during the times when I wanted to trade her for ANYbody else’s mom, I knew in my heart of hearts they’d get the better end of the trade. I’ve been asked, “What would you say to her if she were still alive?” I have NO clue whatsoever. Do tears count? Would a huge, gigantic, bear hug count? If I were to demand that she never leave my brother and I, would that qualify? Simply put, I miss Karen. There’s not ONE day that goes by when I don’t think about her. It hurts whenever someone says, “Your mom…”. It hurts like hell. That’s not a pain that I wish ANYONE to have to endure. At times, my heart literally hurts. When I was younger, I thought the concept of “heartache” was pure bullshit. I didn’t think it was humanly possible to feel actual pain in your heart. I figured it was more of a mental thing; something that you could quickly get over. Man, was I wrong. I know Karen wouldn’t want me to sit around and sulk over losing her, so I haven’t. I remember, but I won’t allow myself to dwell. I completely understand that everyone wouldn’t feel the same in the same situation. Some moms, flat-out, are no good. Absent. Abusive. Neglectful. Careless. A bad parent. But none of those describes Karen. At all. I remember getting her initials tattooed on my arm the year after she passed. I sat in the chair, laughing. The artist asked me, “What’s funny?” I replied, ‘My mom would’ve kicked my ass if she found out I’m getting a tattoo.’ He laughed, and pointed to a small tattoo on his heavily inked arm. It had a birth date. His mom’s. “Same here, brother. Same here.” Somehow, I knew things would only get better. And because I had a hardass for a mom that NEVER took it easy on Adam and I, I know they will… P.S. I miss Karen!!! P.P.S. #shoutout to Adam and Granny B…for simply being there.