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A Day Older Than My Mother

On Dec. 29, I became one day older than my mother on the day she died.

I did not go to bed until I could say this out loud.

At the stroke of midnight, I turned to my husband and said, “Today–“

He finished my sentence, in the softest tone. “You have outlived your mother,” Sherrod said. “Here’s to many years to come.”

Our daughter-in-law, Stina, had stayed up with us, reading on a nearby sofa. She set down the book and walked over to me, her arms open wide. “I love you,” she said, holding me tight. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Of course, they knew. Everyone who loves me knows I’ve been anxiously counting the days, even though I’ve always known it was a deadline only in my mind, and in my heart. I’ve never heard a moment’s judgment from any of them, even though they wished I hadn’t obsessed about running out this particular clock. I can hear their silent collective sigh of relief, not for my milestone, but for my acceptance that it’s time to move on.

Life awaits.

It is New Year’s Eve as I write, and I am ready to welcome 2020 with open arms. I am leaving more than that personal milestone behind. This year started as one thing and ended as something much worse. Even as I think through this next sentence, I worry that some would like me to get over it by now and stop bringing it up, but this is as much as part of me as the creases in my face and songs spooling in my head. Twenty days before my birthday, my brother killed himself. This is who I am now, too, and pretending otherwise only delays the grief I must claw my way through.

I’m getting there. I am.

So, here’s to you, 2019: can’t wait to let you go.

On Monday, “The Hoarse Whisperer,” a popular anonymous account on Twitter, asked, “What is the one (non-political) thing you want to do or accomplish this coming year?”

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I disappoint myself on a regular basis. The last thing I need are goal posts to mark my poor finishes. And yet there I was, responding with the speed of a cook racing to the nearest counter space after scooping a hot casserole out of the oven with threadbare mitts:

I want to double down on making my home a nurturing and fun place for family and friends. More crockpot meals on weeknights, more spontaneous gatherings. I love the music of laughter and clinking dishes at our table. Vacuuming can wait. We need one another.

We do, you know.

More than ever, we need to know the comfort of normalcy in a time when virtually nothing is working the way it’s supposed to, starting with the presidency of the United States.

Lately, I am obsessed with the notion of “shrinking the change,” which I first learned about after reading former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s memoir, “Education of an Idealist.” We can’t fix everything that is wrong with the world, but we can improve the world in our immediate orbit.

Every time I set my table and leave the door open for invited friends or family, I feel a sense of mission. My homemade cornbread and vegetarian chili won’t stop Donald Trump from demonizing migrant children and their families, but our conversations over dinner can help us brainstorm ways to help them. As I’ve learned over hundreds of meals in our home, the most fruitful endeavors often begin with a ritual of the most reliably ordinary.

Dinner, for example.

Time with those we love, for another.

We are embarking on the 2020 campaign year, which will be the worst we’ve experienced because the man running for reelection is the most dangerous president in American history. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic because most people love this country more than Trump, including you.

None of us knows how much time we have on this earth, but each of us gets to decide how we will use what’s left of it.

I have now lived three days longer than my mother on the day she died. Every day is a gift, and just like you, I have to figure out how best to use it.

We’re alive, my friends. Happy New Year.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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