Fortune Cookies in Mexico: The Day My Mama Died

May 25th, the day my mama died. It was a month after my 19th birthday and I was in cosmetology school. Spoiler Alert: I dropped out (yep, I'm a beauty school drop out!) and I started chasing my music making dreams instead. But I’ll share that story another time.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday and I woke up feeling off. Have you every had one of those days when you just feel like you can't function? I tried to pull myself together, but nothing was working, so I decided to take a mental health day and stay home from school.

My mom had been living in Mexico in a little beach bungalow, and when I say bungalow, I mean bungalow! It was small, it was off the grid and she was happy to call it home. She didn't even have a phone, so we had a standing phone date every Sunday and she'd walk down to the pay phone to call me. She loved the life she had created and it was where she truly wanted to be.

The call came in the evening from my sister who was crying so hysterically that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She had recently gone through a painful break up so I was gearing up for a supportive sister phone call. But I eventually heard the words ring out "MOM died". I crumpled down to the ground with the phone still in my hands and I honestly couldn't tell you how the rest of the conversation went. It felt like the rest of the world fell silent after those words.

Two hours later I was on a plane bound for Seattle to join my sister and my dad. I remember sitting on that plane, washed over by grief in disbelief as the people in the seats around me casually talked and laughed. My entire life felt like it was crashing down around me, but the world kept right on spinning.

I’ve thought about that flight often. In that moment to the outside world I probably seemed like a cold, angsty teenager. But I was just a kid trying to come to terms with the reality that my mom was gone and life as I knew would never be the same. The lesson that has stayed with me from that flight is that you just never know what someone is walking through. I try to remember that when I catch myself making snap judgements or assumptions about someone.

That night I tried my best to sleep on my sister’s couch and like a heartbreaking scene from a movie, my daddy sat at her kitchen table with his head in his hands and wept. I can still see his silhouette lit by the moon and the street light outside the window. He was just about to walk out on stage for a show when he got the news. Needless to say, the show did not go on.

In the days to come, my sister and I planned a memorial service for my mom and made the arrangements to fly to Mexico to collect her remains and to pack up her belongings from her beach bungalow.

I had every emotion imaginable and my sister and I bounced back and forth from laughter to tears in a mix of sleep deprivation and sadness.

So there we were, on a flight to Mexico facing a daunting task that no teenager should have to face. I was in the throws of what I can only describe as a heartbroken panic. It was all catching up with me and I needed comfort. I sat there crying, quietly asking my mom to let me know she was still with me and to let me know that everything would be ok.

That was the moment that our flight attendant brought over our in flight meal which to my surprise included a fortune cookie. Yep, a fortune cookie on a flight to Mexico. It was strange but it was my sign. Now, you should know that my whole life, fortune cookies have held sentimental value for me because my mom loved them! She used to tell us that “the cookie would choose you and the fortune you get was meant to find you."

So you can imagine my surprise when I opened my cookie and all it said was “It’s O.K”. As soon as I read it, I knew it was my mom. It was her way of answering my call for comfort. The cookie chose me.

My sisters fortune said “You should learn to play a musical instrument.” and I’m pretty sure that one was choosing me too because my mom's death ended up being the catalyst for me to quit beauty school and to start chasing my musical dreams instead. I began learning to play guitar and started writing songs. In fact the first song I wrote was called Mama's Song and it was a cathartic way for me to process the grief I was experiencing. It opened the flood gates to a completely different life than the one I had previously been living.

I'm not sure why it took my mom dying for me to give myself permission to live out my dreams instead of playing it "safe" with a career I had absolutely no interest in. Perhaps it was because I realized my mom would have never settled for something that didn't light her soul up and she didn't raise me to settle either. Or maybe it was just the wake up call I needed. The reminder that life is a gift and every second should be valued. Maybe it was all of those things? I don't know.

But what I do know is that I wouldn't be who I am today without that experience. It doesn't define me as a person, but it is a part of me and every year on May 25th I reflect back on that chapter of my life. I miss my mom and I wish we had a Sunday phone date scheduled so I could tell her how much I love her and how much I miss her. But something tells me she already knows that and I have a feeling it's all going to be OK.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you at the Opry!