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I know I’m not alone in knowing this particular kind of ache. The gnawing feeling that starts as a niggling growl then slowly, surely expands to an almost sickening ache that encases your entire being.

I first felt it on my first day of first day of the first grade at a new school in a new town. After vomiting up my orange juice and scrambled eggs in the parking lot with my mom as she dropped me off, I began to understand the first levels of what stress, fear, and the unknown felt like. They came and went through breakups throughout my teens, the “I’m so sad I can’t get out of bed” feeling wrought with adolescent angst and hormones. Then came smashing into my gut in a way I’ll never forget the morning after my dad died. When I woke up with an ache in my heart, stomach, limbs, fingertips that felt like the leftover strands of a horrible hangover but turned to be an even worse nightmare when I realized that I hadn’t been dreaming. The last time I experienced the ache was when I left my vacation in April 2012 from Cambodia, believing I wouldn’t be returning; that it would be the last time I would have that type of experience with my mother. Although I was wrong, I couldn’t have known I would have joined her five months later and I cried quietly almost the entire journey back to Washington.

I woke up this morning with that same ache. The nagging feeling that something isn’t right, but isn’t quite wrong either. Nothing solid to pinpoint as I hazily wiped the sleep from my eyes and burrowed my face into the kitten next to me and breathing in the smell of her warm baguette fur. I blamed it on lack of sleep or dreams while getting ready for work, but it settled into my skin like the bite of a mosquito once I saw the envelope sitting on the counter. It’s stark white outline with my mother’s handwriting scrawled across the front securing why I was feeling this way particularly. I gingerly lifted it from it’s place and put it in my bag, not prepared to read what she had to say, the goodbyes, the acceptance that her time here is truly finished. She leaves this week to go back to the United States for a new chapter of life. After her three years of living in Cambodia, it’s time for her to go. For many reasons, and all of them good, but in my quarter of a century type selfishness I’ll admit that it’s a loss that is painful and that I really don’t want her to go. I do, but I don’t. Returned are the same levels of stress, fear, and the unknown that encompassed me as I hunched over wearing my Hello Kitty backpack at six years old.


I stared at the envelope on my desk apprehensively before tenderly breaking the seal. In the package that she left after staying the night are words that will leave an imprint on me for life, words that blur my vision with saltiness as I type, words that express the bond that we share that I am ever so grateful for. They also included my birthday present, which isn’t until September, and my Christmas present, a long five months away. While the gesture means more than she knows, it was almost more painful to receive them in this way; knowing we won’t be there physically with each other to celebrate these events. The feeling is mutual that we have been mainstays to each other during our adventure and time together here in Phnom Penh. Her support, her wisdom, and her vision has been vital in my being to this point here and while I may now have different people or ways to buoy myself- no one will ever be able to fill the large space she has had and will always have in my life.

For takeaway, please.
For takeaway, please.

This Saturday The Common Tiger in their graciousness hosted a last group get-together for my mom in the most beautiful, gentle, and warm setting. With the humid rain pattering around us as we sat in a group, people that she has loved and have loved her back in the form of unique agapé relationships, who have been mainstays in their own ways to her and her to them. It was the perfect blend of old and new and all that were in attendance are deeply cared for; I am so grateful that I know them and that they have been and are in our lives. We are more than blessed. Some I know through her, some she knows through me. Thank you Ritchie. Thank you Christina. Thank you Tim. Thank you Taber. Thank you Terence. Thank you Maridi. Thank you Socheata. Thank you Marisa. Thank you Marco. Thank you Rachel. Thank you Ben. We sat and sipped our poisons of choice, talking, laughing, toasting, and celebrating Sheila, her time here, the river she swam, the cockroaches she killed, the people she impacted. We were so engrossed in the moment that we didn’t even take photos together and anyone who knows me can understand that is some serious good time together.

Swimming across the Mekong during rainy season. Wow.
Swimming across the Mekong during rainy season. Wow.

I listen now “To Sheila”, a song that will always bring me back to high school- during my mom and my worst times- and to now, some of our best.  Each line means something different to me, but especially the verse:

Lately I just can’t seem to believe 
Discard my friends to change the scenery 
It meant the world to hold a bruising faith 
But now it’s just a matter of grace 

I can’t explain fully why- and don’t even want to- but what I can say is that as I sit here listening, silently trying to cage my emotions, is that I embrace the ache this time. I don’t know what is yet to come, if we will live physically in close relation again, or what the coming days, months, years hold for us. I know this ache, I know it well. I accept that it doesn’t lead to ultimate devastation; it is only a part of the process of grieving something so beautiful that I should only be so lucky to have known it.


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