The following post has been submitted by Rylee Hill in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.
When Jodi first asked me to be a part of this project, I was really intrigued but also utterly terrified. If you know me at all, you’d understand that I’m quiet by nature, but it also takes quite some time for me to really open up to others. Needless to say, doing something like this has really challenged me...in a positive way. I knew deep down that God was using Jodi and her project as a way to push me out of my comfort zone. So, here I am!
Nearly a year and half ago, in November of 2016, my world was turned upside down. I was 19, my brother turning 17, when our mom passed away of cancer. When my mom’s health first began to decline about 3 years ago, I was in the midst of applying for universities. Many of my friends were interested in schools that were 3-4 hours away and were looking forward to leaving home. But in my case I knew I couldn’t do that, and I didn’t want to either; the guilt and anxiety of leaving my mom would have haunted me everyday. I was in a very different place in my life compared to my friends, forging ahead into adulthood much earlier than I ever could have anticipated. Consciously, I still tried (and wanted desperately) to make the most of my youth. This proved difficult, because as I was trying to keep a balance between thinking of myself and my own future, my whole world was actually revolving around my mom and her health.
In the months leading up to her passing, my mom had become very weak, which made doing things on her own exceptionally difficult. Because of this, I was staying closer to her than ever and we were spending a lot more time together. I never wanted her to feel alone in what she was going through. I was taking her to every doctor’s appointment I could manage (she couldn’t drive on her own anymore), ensuring she took her medications each morning and night (her memory was going), bathing her, and hooking up her feeding tube every few hours...things I never imagined I’d be doing for my mom as a teenager. Yet, anything she needed, I was there. I also selfishly liked how much she needed and depended on me because I always knew her to be incredibly independent and at times, stubborn. No matter the challenge, she always worked hard to do what she felt was best for us. She had always put my brother and I’s needs before her own and I knew that this time her needs needed to come before ours.
The moment she passed I instantly felt lost, as if I didn’t know who I was without her. There were so many unanswered questions that I was struggling with and I had no idea how I was going to move forward. I feel that if I had to pinpoint a time in which my own journey of self-discovery began, this was it.
Although I was more confused and overwhelmed than I had ever been in my life (or could have anticipated I would be at my age), there was only one thing that I was certain I needed to hold close to me, and that was my faith in God. He is the one who I seek to keep me grounded and, quite honestly: sane. In the beginning I was trying so hard not to be angry with God and not to question him. However, if you can imagine (as many of you have) this was not always an easy thing to do. Slowly, whenever I would find myself overcome with feelings of anger or sadness, I instead challenged myself to seek gratitude - reminding myself to thank God instead of resent him. Everyday I thank him for the beautiful, independent, selfless mom he gave me, and the time we were able to spend together.
Another large part of my journey has been allowing myself to trust the plans that God has set out for me. I’ve always felt the most vulnerable when I’m not the one in control, which is why not knowing where God is going to lead me next, scares me more than anything. I know the fear isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so instead, when I feel it coming over me, I’m learning to lean into it and trust in Him.
When my mom passed, that fear came over me in waves...greater than it ever had before. My mom was the first person I would go to before making any big decisions. If I was in crisis, or even if I just needed to vent, she was the only person I let my guard down in front of. I was completely myself with her, and she always found a way to make the most difficult decisions seem easy.
What I wouldn’t give to have one more conversation, one more hug, to hear her call me “babe” one more time; I envy those who still have their moms here with them - as I now only have the quiet, divine conversations we share. I miss the comfort I felt with her. I miss knowing that she’s at home waiting for me, whether it’s after a long day at school or after a night with my girlfriends. I know that I can’t let the fear of being without her steer me backwards. This is why I work everyday to willingly give up my control to God...and when I do, it’s worth it every single time.
I will never understand the reason why my mom had to pass, but I don’t need that answer in order to be able to keep my faith God, and trust that he has a plan for me.
God has granted me strength. I love this about myself. I never imagined that I could possess the amount of courage, strength, and perseverance that has gotten me through the past year and a half. I am grateful for my strength and my ability to keep moving forward with a positive attitude (most of the time).
Some advice for those of you who are, or have been in a similar situation to mine, or for those who just want to hear it: you can, and you will get through it. I know it’s hard to believe that statement sometimes, but it’s true; the pain will subside and you’ll be able to sift through your memories and remember nothing but the positives. You’ll be able to take solace in the moments and the time you were so grateful to share with the person you lost. The memories will stay with you forever, reminding you that although their physical self may be gone, the soul never really leaves. Their purpose remains fulfilled within you.
In a relatively short period of time I have learned so much about who I am, and who I want to be. I don’t resent any of the challenges that God has placed in front of me. I accept them as they come and will continue to use them to help shape this life - because I’ve got lots of it left to live.
At 20 years old, this is me. Not exactly, what I had in mind, but I will continue to do the best that I can, and remain grateful for every minute of it.
RYLEE IS: trying.