As someone once said, “Parents act so strong for us that we often forget how fragile they are.” My parents are the strongest people in my life. All my life I have looked up to them–not just as parents, but as role models as well. They have taught me to be strong and push on in any situation, and never to let challenges get the better of me. Both of my parents experienced tragedy at early ages. My parents wouldn’t be who they are today if those tragic moments hadn’t happened; my sisters and I would not be who we are without the lessons they have taught us about life. Life isn’t easy, and it will never be. Never give up or let yourself get down because you are going through something hard. Struggles makes you a better person in the end. My mom and dad have shown this to me throughout my life.
To start, I am assuming that neither of my parents know what on earth is happening right now with this speech. My parents thought that I was up here today to talk about my sisters and myself, but little did they know that was a cover up for this speech. To sum up, they had no idea that they would be hearing a speech about how much they mean to their daughter.
When tragic things happen, whether you are alive for it or not, the fact that someone who was close to you is gone is not easy to comprehend. I never got the opportunity to meet my grandmother or my uncle. They were both taken too soon for me to meet them, and frankly for my parents to get to know them fully. Both my mom and dad never really got to know key family members in their lives.
Carol Cannon Chapman was my mom’s mom. As I said, I never met her. All my life I have seen pictures of her throughout my house and my grandfather’s house, but the pictures are the only things I have of her. Everytime my mom looks at the picture of her in the office, she always says: “She was so skinny, you could easily tell that she was sick, but never that she was suffering.” My grandmother passed away at age 39 of colon cancer; my mom was just 17 years old and my aunt was 12. After that, my mom had to become the mother to her younger sister until she went to college.
Now I know some people in this room have lost a parent, but I can bet no where near as many of you have lost a sibling. I know one person who has, and it is my dad. My parents met in college, shortly after my mom had lost her mother. However, my mom became extremely close with my dad and his family, so close that she nearly went as a date to a high school dance with my dad’s younger brother, Todd. I say nearly because he didn’t get to go to the dance. The few things I know about my uncle are that he liked hockey, pizza, and Coca-Cola, and that he had the biggest heart, maybe too big. Unfortunately, Todd Biggs unexpectedly passed away at the age of 14 from heart complications; my dad was 21 years old. I can’t imagine the pain that endured the years following both of these events. However, I do know the pain that followed even when I was old enough to understand what was going on. When I started to come to terms with what had happened in both my parents’ lives, I started to realize what it took for my parents to go on everyday after that.
Despite their backgrounds, my parents were no different from my friends’ parents. They had been through different difficult experiences, but they treated me the same. Something my mom has confessed to my sisters and me is that she was worried about being a good mom to us. She didn’t have a mom to ask or call about how to be a mother. She had to figure it out since age 17. She didn’t want us to suffer by not having a mother just because her mother figure was not around anymore. Let me just say, this was not a problem. She has never disappointed us as a mother, and when times got hard, we were there for her. As my older sister Caroline said to my mom was she was younger, “Don’t worry Mommy–I’ll be your mom!” In 7th grade both my sisters left for school. This was one of the first times I had ever seen my parents cry before. My oldest sister Caroline went to college in Nashville. My middle sister Emilie went to boarding school in England. It was the first time I would ever really be alone with my parents for a long period of time. I would spend everyday, all day with them. I became even closer to them and have learned so much more than I ever could have imagined about their lives. Whether or not I leave them next year for school, I know that their stories will never escape me.
When my mom and I went to tour boarding schools, two of them hit close to home for her. One of the school was St. Timothy’s; a school where my mom taught history and was a dorm parent for a while after college. The other was called Madeira, and that was the school was the school my grandmother attended. Needless to say, the school did not forget about her. As a welcome gift, they gave us a copy of her yearbook photo from her senior year. In front of one of the dorm rooms, there was a plaque dedicated to her and her legacy. The plaque read: “To the memory and spirit of Carol Cannon Chapman, Class of 1964. She inspired us to live with grace, to finish in style.” This year, my mom will have a birthday that will mean she has outlived her mom by 10 years. I am already the same age as Todd when he died. These two milestones may seem small, but to my family, they signify that life isn’t promised. Out of everything my parents and their families’ stories have taught me, being thankful and making the most of every day is at the top of my list. Everyday I learn more about my family, and everyday I see how strong and connected it had made us. My mom’s unconditional love and dedication was the same dedication and love she never fully received from her mom. My dad’s persistence in trying to strengthen the bond between my sisters and me was the bond that was cut short between him and Todd. They both have given my sisters and me what they never could fully receive.
I will never fully understand what my parents went through. However, I know they are just as sensitive as I am, as you are, and as all of us are. No one is perfect. We all try to act strong despite what is actually happening in our lives. Just know that everyone is going through something that you can’t imagine. Just remember that everyone is as sensitive and ready to break down as you are, even your parents. Life will never be easy; it never was from the start. When times are hard, we learn from them, and teach others to learn from them as well. So as hard as it has been to hear my parents tell me “Even though they aren’t here to tell you in person, please know they are incredibly proud of you and what you have done.” just remember that they are just as proud of you too. I know that my grandmother and Todd are proud of my parents for pushing on and inspiring me to push through anything. Life will get better if you allow it to. Be proud of yourself, and never stop fighting. This I believe.
By Melissa Callahan