I am dedicating my half marathon to my mom.

Today is mother’s day in El Salvador, where my mom and I were born. So I thought today would be an appropriate time to post this.

I don’t talk about my birth mom every day, but she’s always there in the back of my mind – propelling and motivating everything I do.

It’s strange how someone who hasn’t been physically present for so long can still have such a strong hold on your life. I was nine when my mom died, so I was lucky enough to still be raised and shaped by her.

I can’t imagine what kind of person I would be today were it not for my mother. I don’t think I would have made it. In every crisis I went through, I was always drawing from the strength she instilled in me. My mom was a fighter, just like me. Strong but gentle. Feminine but tough. She wasn’t scared of anything and I could never fool her. She knew all my secrets.

I only had her for nine years, yet somehow that was enough. From her I learned how to love unconditionally. How to always get back up. I learned who God was and what He was like.

I think of my mom when I run. When the run gets hard, I imagine her watching me.

When my mom first went to the hospital, it never occurred to me that she would not be coming back. I never knew how sick she was until after her death, and I often wonder if it would have been better or worse for me to know she had leukemia.

On one hand, I would have had the opportunity to process the loss more effectively. It would have been less of a shock for me. But her final days would have been tough. Instead of blissful ignorance, there would have been grief. But I was a strong kid, and in the long term I think I would have appreciated the opportunity to say goodbye to my mom. I just never imagined that she wouldn’t always be there.

But she knew she was dying. On one of the last days that I saw her, my mom called me over to her bed. She gave me a little red Gideon New Testament Bible and told me she wanted me to always read it and live by it. Inside she had written a dedication for me in Spanish. She said she hoped I would base my life on that book.

At the time I had no way of knowing the value of that last gift from her. Or what she could have been thinking and feeling, knowing that it was the last thing she would ever give me. But I did sense some kind of significance and I kept it close by, with my other “important” things.

I did read that Bible. A little bit every day, and sometimes a lot. I read it with a highlighter because I had seen my dad highlight important things. After my mom died my Bible got put away with my other books and moved around a lot as I kept changing locations. I had very few possessions at this time since I had no real home. Every time I moved I would leave things behind, until finally I had nothing. But the Bible stayed with me.

When I moved into the place I am now, I took it out for the first time in years and opened it up. The pages are worn and bent. The front page when my mom wrote her dedication is ripped. But every single word in that Bible is highlighted.

My mom died on Valentine’s Day 1990. My dad told me that God needed a Valentine and he had picked the prettiest one. I still believe that.

At the funeral I wore a blue and black dress. It was an open casket and the first time I had ever seen a dead body. I wasn’t scared because it didn’t look like the person lying there was my mom. She had a lot of makeup on, which she never wore. Her face was white and powdered instead of her usual olive skin and rosy cheeks. I touched her hand and her face. She was cold and rubbery. I didn’t cry.

Grieving for me is like something that never goes away. It doesn’t really hurt anymore but it’s always there, like an invisible scar. I find that at each stage of my life I miss her differently and for different reasons. Things I wanted to ask her that I ended up learning the hard way. Or situations I could have avoided if she had just been there to point me along. Milestones in my life that I wish she could have seen. Moments she might have been proud of me.

I was alone for so long without her. And to a certain extent, I still am. But I remember her when I run. This is my way of keeping her close.