As I read the paragraph, I find myself rooting for the narrator, hoping that her marriage will not end. Her pain is so palpable and her emotions so raw. I forget that I know the ending, that I lived the ending. The narrator is my mother, and the book is one of her many journals. I started reading them 15 years after she passed away, when I was feeling challenged as mother myself. My husband had begun recovery and I was finding it difficult to parent my two young children as we navigated our way through day-to-day life. Sitting on the bookshelf in my home office they beckoned me.

The first journal started out buoyantly, it was a snapshot of my infancy and my mother was downright joyful. Her experience as a young mother mirrored mine as a new parent almost identically. I saw my own experience with my children laid out in her words. Reliving my childhood through her eyes was intimate and magical.

Years later, a depression enveloped her and she began to feel lost and unmoored. The journals began to take a darker turn. It was 1976 and she wanted to return to work. My mother had enjoyed a thriving career in the fashion industry before she had my brother and me, and had begun to miss the wholeness that working had brought her. Page after page revealed a sadness that left her feeling alone, deepening as the weeks passed. The shift in her was black, sorrowful and extraordinarily pained. The words haunted me as I began to recognize them as my own. They described my life in a way that I had never dare say out loud. Viewing her life as though it were an aerial map, I used her words. I returned to therapy, feeling a gentle nudge propel me.

I missed her. Every day, I missed her. I was 25 when she died and at the time the loss felt so massive that I couldn’t imagine existing without her. It was as though someone had cut me in half. Her passing came quickly and dramatically. She awoke on a hot morning in June complaining that her legs hurt. My brother and I took her to the ER and she was admitted in what felt like were seconds. There were huddled doctors, and then news that cancer was in her bones, moving through her spine. It didn’t seem real. For two weeks I sat by her side, daily life falling to the wayside, until she took her final breath. I remember driving home that day numb to everything and everyone around me. I wasn’t sure what would come out of my mouth when I eventually spoke again or how I would even manage to do it.

As I read on, the ebb and flow of her life, of our life, unfolds before my eyes. I celebrate her highs and sink with the lows. The blow of my father’s infidelities, the end of her marriage and the comedy of what dating felt like at 50 all play out. Her long, terrifying battle with cancer, all there in the language of a mother, of a parent with so much at stake. As I relive all of the events that felt so significant to me as a child, I see them globally, through her, and for the first time they make sense. I wonder, as I read on, what my children make of what’s happening around them as my husband works on his recovery. Once again, I feel a gentle nudge to sit with them and talk about the shift in our home. To stop pretending things are perfect. To be real, just transparent enough to let them participate and not feel like they are being brushed aside. Another lesson learned.

And so I return to the journals, using them as a sort of makeshift parenting guide, the only map she unwittingly left me, for better or worse. More than anything, a place I can go to feel my roots, deeply. And yet, as I read them, it’s like I’m lost in a world that I locked away. The nuances and details of the journals paint a vivid picture of a woman that feels so tangibly familiar.

Erin Zelle is a TV Producer and Writer living in LA, juggling career and family just like the rest of us. You can follow her on Twitter @ErinRZelle.

You can find more parenting coverage, and sign up for our newsletter here. Like On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, advice and news.

You might also be interested in: