Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of the day my mother left us. Ironic that July 4th is Independence Day in the States.

There are so many memories – of my then-husband thrusting the phone into my hands, annoyed that someone would call so late. Then again, he’d been up, on the computer, watching…it doesn’t matter.

A familiar voice, followed by that crushing, breathless weight when my cousin, Leslynn, told me mom was gone.I stayed calm, while inside I was screaming NONONONONO. I wanted to throw myself on the bedroom floor, tear out my hair and shriek at the top of my lungs.

“Your mother’s dead, then?” said my ex in a tone so devoid of emotion, it could have been a machine speaking. He’d pretended to love her but how often had he said she was too strong? And that I was just like her.

Speaking to my youngest brother, who was the closet to mom, because he’d been the last child and lived with her alone, the longest. They were friends. In fact, he called her Ralph, in a soft, wistful voice. I’m not sure why, but it was their secret and I didn’t mind.

We didn’t weep then. There were things to be done – book our flights to Calgary, pack, call other people. My world got very small as I held myself together.

Crushing grief was a protector of sorts, but it couldn’t last forever. The weeping stopped. The sun came out. Somewhere in the world, other tragedies struck. Appetites returned. Life was cracked, but not broken.

What I didn’t expect was that her death meant I could let go of many things that held me captive while she was alive. Being afraid to stand out in a crowd. Taking big risks. My thirty-year marriage.

Once the shock of her being ‘not here’ began to recede and the tight bands of self control loosened, I realized I no longer had to hold myself back or hold myself in. Pretend to be what I wasn’t. The price of that freedom to choose was very, very high. But I’ve tried hard not to squander it.