A Board in Review

By Jordan Miller

After three presidents in three years, a million-dollar investigation behind closed doors and broader criticisms over transparency, OU’s Board of Regents has decided to ask for help.

In August, the board issued a request-for-proposals to assemble a report of best practices for university governance across the nation with implications of those findings for OU. In October, the board tried a new open discussion strategy with public committee meetings – but in between meetings, the way it selected a new chair may have violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, according to Freedom of Information Oklahoma – who also awarded the board the “black hole” award for lack of transparency.

Compared to two other comparable universities, OU’s board lacks much of the community representation, staffing support and student perspective that boards at similar institutions have.

Those who don’t have a seat at the table feel the lack of representation. Student Government Association President Adran Gibbs said SGA and other community stakeholders have been pushing for more input for a while to at least get a nonvoting student on the board, but have not been successful.

“We don’t have a lot of input at the Board of Regents level, besides the public meetings that they hold a couple times a semester, but you don’t have speaking privileges — no one does at the… meetings,” Gibbs said. “(A nonvoting student regent is) not something that’s been accepted at all — especially by the Board of Regents or anyone higher up in the decision-making process.”

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The best thought processes

OU’s Board of Regents is made up of seven governor-appointed regents who ultimately approve some of the biggest decisions for the OU system, which also includes Cameron University and Rogers State University.

The regents “oversee and support and assist in the governance of a public institution,” said Alisa Fryar, OU associate political science professor and an expert on higher education policy. This board has more specific powers targeted toward the OU system, rather than across all Oklahoma institutions as a whole, Fryar said.

The board typically holds regular meetings seven to eight times a year, usually with the attendance of the university president and occasionally other senior university officials, such as Ken Rowe, senior vice president and chief financial officer, or Athletic Director Joe Castiglione. The meeting locations shift among the various campuses the board represents.

By comparison, other university boards have many constituencies that help advise on board decisions — rather than just having the university presidents speak for all institutional aspects.

The University of Kansas, which was ranked 130th in the nation this year by U.S. News and World Report, is comparable to OU according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System’s 2018 Data Feedback Report. OU recently regained its ranking in U.S. News and World Report after misreporting of alumni donations during former President David Boren’s tenure, and the university is now ranked 132nd.

The University of Kansas is governed by the Kansas Board of Regents, whose members meet once a month at their office in Topeka and oversee six state institutions, coordinate with other community or technical colleges and regulate the state’s private universities, said Matthew Keith, director of communications for the Kansas Board of Regents.

Although the board’s monthly meetings are in Topeka, it also holds three campus visits each year, Keith said. The board’s monthly meetings are public and live-streamed — whereas OU has live-streamed only the selection of former OU president James Gallogly in recent years.

“(On these visits) they always meet with the faculty, and they meet with students as well, just to try and get that shared governance view on each campus, because obviously… they’re the elected leaders for the Faculty Senate, or for the SGA on the campus,” Keith said.

While OU regents’ meetings typically go through and approve agenda items for each campus, Kansas regents’ meetings are usually two-fold: One day for discussion of issues within committees and another day for committees to present reports to the entire board before it makes a decision. This is a practice OU’s board tried at its October meeting.

“They really rely a lot on hearing from all of those different groups from across the system to really help provide some insight,” Keith said of the Kansas system. “Board staff helps coordinate those groups as well and provide that information to the regents because it is a lot. They do a lot of different roles.”

Keith said three councils make up committees for the Kansas board: Governance, fiscal affairs and academic affairs. Each group has subgroups that report to it — such as a council of business officers across Kansas institutions, and another for chief business officers from community and technical colleges across the wider state system.

In addition to these advising groups, the Kansas board starts meetings with reports from the council of presidents and the system council of presidents, the council of faculty senate presidents and the student advisory committee, Keith said. This committee, which has been required by state statute since 1975, is made up of SGA presidents from each campus, Keith said.

OU’s board, in comparison, has seven committees: athletics, finance/audit, Norman campus, Tulsa campus, Health Sciences Center, Cameron University and Rogers State University, according to the October special meeting agenda.

Three regents serve on each committee, chair Leslie Rainbolt said, and with the recent open special committee meetings, she said the board is trying different things to be more transparent with its decision-making. Rainbolt said they are testing practices from other institutions — such as Oklahoma State University, where Regent Natalie Shirley drew upon the idea for this type of committee meeting — to come up with the “best decisions.”

“I think it was fruitful and interesting. I liked hearing what everybody’s thinking… the best decisions come from the best thought processes,” Rainbolt said.

At the October meeting of the Norman campus committee, the regents discussed issues more openly than at a typical meeting, with Vice President of Operations Eric Conrad fielding questions about one of the agenda items.

Faculty Senate Chair Joshua Nelson also attended, and when Rainbolt was asked if more community members would be brought in to these meetings, she said people should look at how Faculty Senate chairs have come to general meetings as an example of how to get involved.

“First of all, I’d like everyone to show interest and come to the general meeting. If you’re really interested, show up for that,” Rainbolt said.

According to a recent special meeting agenda, committee discussion occasionally can involve outside members giving advice to the regents, such as Conrad’s inclusion in their discussion of the Norman campus.

Indiana University Bloomington, which was ranked 79th by U.S. News and World Report and is another comparable university according to the 2018 Data Feedback Report, has a meeting structure similar to the Kansas board’s. Its meetings typically last two days, with separate committees for areas like academic affairs and student relations, said Debbie Lemon, secretary of the Indiana University Board of Trustees.

Each committee is led by different regents, but all regents serve on each committee, along with a president’s liaison, Lemon said. Each president’s liaison is a university vice president, except for the liaison for student relations, who is the president’s chief of staff.

Lemon said these liaisons help the Indiana board run most efficiently.

“That helps because that really informs, especially the committee chair, if there’s any late breaking things going on, and what’s really important for that particular committee going forward,” Lemon said. “Those relationships are really important.”

During their business meetings, the Indiana trustees also hear faculty reports from their University Faculty Council, which has three co-chairs — one each from system location in Bloomington, Indianapolis and the regional campuses, Lemon said.

Fryar said a big reason why reason OU’s board does not have its own advisory committees or councils is a lack of staffing and being on the board is not a full-time job for the regents, either. Boards like Kansas’ often have full-time staff members with expertise in areas like academic affairs who provide independent advising support.

Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that works to uphold academic excellence and accountability at universities nationwide, said having committees of regents specialize in specific issues — which OU’s board does — is a big advantage for smaller boards.

“The committees are able to share their longer and deeper engagement on those particular topics,” Poliakoff said. “I would recommend that there be — for all boards — something beyond simply the public presentations at board meetings with these constituencies. Having an opportunity for subgroups of trustees or regents to meet with greater focus on very specific issues, and then sharing that with the board, is a real advantage.”

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An effective trustee or regent

OU’s governor-appointed board is small but ideal, Poliakoff said, as long as the governor is deliberate about appointing members with representative backgrounds of expertise.

Indiana’s board has had a governor-selected student trustee since 1976, Lemon said. Although this adds a student perspective to the board, it can lead to issues with the board being an independent trust of the university, Poliakoff said.

“(Student trustees) can be extremely effective,” Poliakoff said. “But here’s the caveat: An effective trustee or regent should leave his or her constituency at the boardroom door. The board members should listen to everybody, but be beholden to nobody, except — in the case of a public institution — the citizens that they serve, and the institution through which they serve them. It’s crucial that governing boards have that level of independence.”

Indiana’s student trustee serves a two-year term and is selected through a trustee search, Lemon said. The committee, which is composed of the presidents of student government organizations across the Indiana University campuses, meets several times a year and narrows the candidates to 10 with an open application and interview process.

Those finalists are then sent to the governor for review and, although the search is closed, the president and chair of the board of trustees are both given the list of names before the governor makes the final decision, Lemon said.

“Our student has all the same powers as everybody else,” Lemon said.

When OU had student representation on the presidential search committee before Gallogly’s selection in 2018, the three students in the group had one-third of a vote each, in comparison to a half of a vote each from two staff members and a full vote each from 12 faculty and at-large members.

Six of the nine Indiana trustees are appointed by the governor, but the remaining three are elected annually by alumni, and every trustee except the student serves three-year terms.

Some boards may have political constraints, such as Kansas’ governor-appointed board requirement that no more than five of the nine members can be of the same political party, according to the board’s policy manual. No two regents can reside in the same county at the time of their appointment, either. In comparison, several OU regents are based in Oklahoma City, according to the regents’ online biographies, though the board also represents campuses in Lawton, Tulsa, Norman and Claremore.

Poliakoff said although political controls on regents can be representative — as seen at the University of Colorado, where regents are chosen through direct elections — constituent loyalty can be a barrier to the ultimate purpose of a governing board, but there is no “silver bullet” to guarantee the board will be loyal to the university yet independent.

Amid all these selection processes and composition regulations for governing boards, Poliakoff said the best trustees are the ones who stay in touch with the university outside of board presentations and the school newspaper — whether it be through a university appointee or through contact with university constituencies.

“A good trustee is somebody that is intensely informed about the institution and about higher education and policies around the nation,” Poliakoff said. “The trustees are also a window outward from the institution to see what best practices are and what challenges are around the nation.”

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The single most important responsibility

Each governing board in Kansas, Indiana and Oklahoma has one large task in common: selecting the university president.

In the past three years, OU’s Board of Regents has had to select a university president — who then retired less than a year into his term — and an interim president who will serve a minimum of 15 months, when another search will commence.

The regents received criticism for the closed search in early 2018, when no candidates were announced throughout the process except one who announced himself. However, this process is not uncommon at other institutions.

“You have to be kind of judicious about (transparency). … There are times when I appreciate the deliberative value that comes from being able to discuss things in ways that aren’t fully public,” Fryar said. “At the same time, there are other spaces where … the optics made it difficult to say that there was meaningful transparency, and there were probably reasons to believe there was not meaningful transparency.”

The Kansas Board of Regents appoints the presidents at the six state universities it represents, Keith said. This board has two options when conducting a presidential search: They can have the board lead the search, or, most commonly, they can hold a committee-led search with a chair, one regent, the previous board president, faculty, students and community leaders.

This committee vets initial candidates and conducts official interviews, then forwards its finalists to the board.

The board can conduct either a closed or open presidential search, but Keith said the board typically chooses a closed search to keep candidates’ names confidential, though it has conducted open searches.

This search process is very similar to the type conducted to find Gallogly, where faculty, students, staff and other members of the university community formed a 17-member committee and submitted finalists to the board after going through applications and an interview process.

Although Indiana has had the same university president since 2007, Lemon said Indiana’s board also would assemble a committee when the next search arises, with a similar composition to Kansas’ committee.

The last time there was a search at Indiana, another advisory board gave feedback to the primary search committee, with even more academics and alumni giving input as board members, Lemon said.

Although Lemon said she was unaware of whether Indiana’s previous search was open, Indiana state law “does not limit — and presumptively requires — the release of the following information in an applicant’s file: ‘Name, compensation, job title, …’” according to the Student Press Law Center’s state-by-state guide to executive personnel searches.

Oklahoma’s laws are more restrictive of such information. Open records law exempts selection materials related to hiring a public employee, and open meetings law allows closed meetings when discussing hiring of a public employee, according to the Student Press Law Center’s guide.

Poliakoff said the first step toward a successful presidential search is for the board to determine its vision for the university’s future, so members can be clear about expectations for the successor. Next, the board needs to listen to “every constituency in the university” through focus groups to clarify the criteria for the next president — something OU implemented in the search for Gallogly.

Without a clearly defined vision for the university’s future, the search can end up “far more ambiguous than it should be,” Poliakoff said.

“(The appointment of the university president) is the single most important responsibility of the board,” Poliakoff said. “Whether it uses an executive search firm or not, it must never delegate away any of that engagement or responsibility. If that process is followed, it has a much better chance of a really vibrant working relationship with the (university) CEO.”

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Changing perspectives

Amid a tumultuous time at OU, Poliakoff said the biggest thing the regents can take from the past few years is to learn from the experience — which it seems they are doing, he said, considering the delayed search for a permanent president.

“This shows a prudent instinct in making sure the next selection is one that is based on a very measured and considered understanding of what OU needs to continue to be the great institution that it is,” Poliakoff said. “Then, to be able to articulate criteria from that understanding and to ensure that every board member is fully engaged in the search process — and when that’s done, I think the university has far less to fear.”

In the board’s solicitation to determine best practices for university governance, due to be presented in December, the regents are attempting to further understand what the best ways are to run OU efficiently.

“By taking prudent measures,” Poliakoff said, “one greatly enhances the possibility of an outcome that will allow the institution to be everything that it wants to be.”

Story behind the story: Nick Hazelrigg, OU employs law firm to investigate misreporting of alumni donations during Boren tenure

Last winter, I was sitting in the newsroom during finals week, printing something out for a class when I saw all of The Daily’s news editors gathered in a room. They were talking intensely about something, and I was curious about what it was, but I figured I’d know eventually.

A few days later, they dropped a huge story – OU’s development office had been misreporting alumni donation numbers under former OU President David Boren’s tenure, and the university was currently funding an investigation into what happened.

Nick Hazelrigg, The OU Daily’s current Editor-in-Chief who served as assistant news managing editor when he wrote the story, said he reported the story over about a month and a half before it was finally pushed the week of finals in 2018.

“I was told by someone who had more knowledge of the situation involving the misreporting that it might be a thing and that from what they knew it was an open secret,” Hazelrigg said. “And if I were to talk to more people, they might be able to confirm that. But yeah, someone came forward anonymously and first tipped me off about this.”

Hazelrigg said the source found him through someone else who worked at The Daily, who recommended to Hazelrigg that he get in contact with the source. He said he talked with the source for a while off the record to confirm the things he’d heard the source knew about.

“Luckily, this person when they reached out, they recommended some people that might be good sources to reach out to them might be privy to the information,” Hazelrigg said. “I reached out to all them and I only really heard back from two of the four people that he recommended I reach out to.”

When talking with these other sources for confirmation, Hazelrigg explained to them that although they may not want their names in the story, anonymous confirmation on what was true would be “really helpful.”

“I also obtained, through one of my sources, a document that sort of backed up the rumors that there was misreporting on behalf of the department of development,” Hazelrigg said. “So I was able to confirm it in the story saying that I had three people who had confirmed it was true, and then I had one document that was internal to the university that also sort of confirmed what was true.”

Hazelrigg said one issue that came up while reporting the story was that some people were unclear on whether or not misreporting had occurred, but knew people had been interviewed by Jones Day about misreporting.

“They couldn’t tell me whether or not they knew that was true,” Hazelrigg. “But they could say ‘I was interviewed by Jones Day about this. And they asked me questions about, you know, inflated numbers and Vice President Tripp Hall,’ and stuff like that, and so became pretty clear.”

After seeing the document he obtained that was internal to the development office, which stated that the alumni giving rates were 7 percent versus the U.S. News and World Report’s reported 13 percent, Hazelrigg said he felt solid in his reporting.

Hazelrigg believes the source felt comfortable bringing this tip to The Daily because at that time, other area publications were not as focused on looking into what was going on at OU – as The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World had only really done surface-level stories on President Gallogly’s selection at the time, and not much else. 

“Now that’s obviously changed,” Hazelrigg said. “I think that after a lot of this came out, it became clear there was a lot going on at OU and these other these other publications sort of ramped it up a little bit. But back then, I mean, it was really The Daily that was doing the bulk of the reporting on some of the scandals that were happening during the Gallogly’s first couple months in office.”

The most important thing Hazelrigg said to consider when reporting stories through anonymous sources is negotiating the extent to which the reporter can use them in a story, and being clear about how the information the source provided will be written.

“You obviously don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable but giving them assurances about whether their name would be used or whether there would be any sort of situation where somebody could link it back to them…that’s just really important,” Hazelrigg said.

Q&A with Angela Castaneda: Striking out on her own

By Jordan Miller

Salty and buttery, the smell of rice and vegetables fills the smoky air.

Her long, straight black hair is folded-over into a bun perched at the crown of her head, bouncing as she stirs the pot on the stove. She has AirPods in while she cooks, listening to something, but then she turns to me.

“I’m gonna call my mom real quick and let her know I’m okay,” she said, walking out to the porch.

I nod and finish the meal I was already eating in the living room, keeping an eye on the stove as steam rushes from the pot’s lid. The vegetables crackle in the pot, the smell turning stale and sharp as they continue to cook.

She finally comes back inside, cursing as she enters the kitchen. The meal is burned.

After salvaging what she can for her dinner, she comes back and sits down on the couch next to me, tucking her sporty-yet-comfortable sweatpant-clad legs underneath her.
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Angela Castaneda has been a loner for most of her life. A Tulsa native, she stayed in the area and maintained a close relationship with her family, attending Tulsa Community College for her freshman year before transferring to OU – her first time ‘leaving the nest.’

“Can you tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like? I know you mentioned English was your first language, so I wanted to get a little bit about your background first before I ask about like some stuff nowadays,” I asked her.

“Growing up was a bit difficult,” she said. “Because I didn’t really have friends during like Elementary, and it was bit tough making friends because obviously as I mentioned before, English wasn’t my first language. I did speak Spanish throughout most of elementary, and I almost got held back because of it too. And I guess that contributed to like my loneliness, so I was really lonely, wasn’t really out there. I really couldn’t be out there.”

“So you’re mostly hanging out with your family and stuff?” I asked. “Whenever you grew up, was it mostly just because your family spoke Spanish around you that you learned it? And did you mostly grow up here or did you guys go where your parents are from to visit the rest of your family?”

“It was whenever I turned 14 that’s when we actually started going out of the country, back to El Salvador,” she said. “But other than that we’re very close – my parents, my brothers. But I know for a fact that my little brother and my older brother don’t speak as much Spanish as I do. So that made it a bit easier for them to talk to me instead of them.”

“Why do you think that is (that they don’t speak as much Spanish?)”

She looks up and clasps her hands, thinking for a minute before she answers.

“I like to think my younger brother is more Americanized,” she said. “He wasn’t raised to think that he’s like, full-on Salvadoran. Meanwhile, my older brother and I were raised that way. But my older brother didn’t really catch on to Spanish, he caught on more to English rather than Spanish.”

“So I know you transferred from from TCC, right?” I asked. “So can you tell me a little bit about deciding to go to TCC and then transferring to OU? Like whenever you went through high school, did you just want to stay home for a year with your family? And then figure it out?”

“Uh, no – I actually wanted to come to OU, but my dad wouldn’t let me,” she said with a slight laugh. “So I was forced to stay there, not because I wanted to be there.”

“Oh okay. So how did you end up at OU – did you just stay there for a year and then your dad was like ‘OK, I guess you can go now.’?”

“No, I made a deal with him, actually,” she said. “The deal was I’d stay there for two years. But since I got ahead, and was technically in my second year, I used that to my advantage. And I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to the school that I wanted to. And you can’t do anything to stop me, I already said yes.’ And that’s how I got here.”

Her journey to OU was part of seeking that community she longed for – the first time she experienced the university, she felt like she could fit in.

“So why did you pick OU over like OSU? Or an out of state school? What made OU stand out to you?” I ask.

“I’ve been to OSU before, and I didn’t really feel like I’d be myself there,” she said. “Meanwhile, whenever I came to OU, I was in my senior year, we went with my women’s basketball team. And we came to watch the women’s basketball game. And I guess that’s where I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I can really see myself being here and not feel awkward about it.’ And so that helped me with my decision.”

On her own now, she likes being more independent – but she still needs to be around her family, and goes home to Tulsa often.

“What have you liked and not liked about it? Just kind of the experience of leaving home and starting out on your own?”

“I’ve liked being on my own,” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t, because I’m, I’m very reliant on to my parents, I always need to be around them. And so just doing this, it’s crazy for me to even imagine it…but it’s just (an) experience.”

‘Love, Mommy’

By Jordan Miller

My handwriting looks like my mom’s.

Our words run together because we don’t take the pen off the paper. Our letters squish together too, since we write too wide for it to be any other way, and my dad always admonished us both for it.

“Jane Ann, it looks like a two-year-old wrote this,” he would say.

The words “Love, Mommy” are some of the last I have from her, on cards I get on special birthdays or other milestones, written in wobbly script that hurts if I think about it too much.

She died when I was 11. Her breast cancer turned into brain cancer.
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Life with my mother is now a faint memory to me. I have snippets, and I can remember what she looked like mostly – the way she wore her shoulder-length blonde hair with those sparse bangs, the funny fauxhawk she got when the chemo had taken most of it away.

My little brother was a carbon copy of her – once, we even put her wig on him and he looked exactly like her as a child.

Jane Ann Miller’s personality is somewhat of an enigma to me. What I do know is she was an accountant until she started having babies, and resolved to go back to work once me and my brother made it through high school. She loved the New York Times crossword puzzles, and had an autographed book of Hillary Clinton’s autobiography – but she was more moderate than that would lead me to believe.

Of course, all of this knowledge is courtesy of my father.

I can hear her laugh sometimes, or her voice saying “Jordan Renee Miller” when I was in trouble, but real memories I have of her are few and far between.

I remember she used to play an online game with me called WebKinz, and I bought my mom her own WebKinz stuffed animal for Mother’s Day while she was sick. We buried her with it.

I remember we used to scare my little brother by flipping her hair over her face and putting her glasses over it, making him shriek with terror and me shriek with laughter, until she turned into Mommy again.

Cards from her that my dad saved for the milestones of my life she wouldn’t witness are the tangible things I have left of her now, along with a morbid fill-in-the-blank book that tells me parts of the life story she never got to share with me.
After they broke the news to my 7-year-old brother and me that Mommy wouldn’t be getting better, my Houston home became populated with neighbors and their countless casseroles, family from across the country to help us with the day-to-day of caring for her and ourselves.

I felt suffocated by pity. My school even held this unbearable concert with my withered, bald mother at the center of the library while my fifth grade class sang “You Raise Me Up.” At eleven years old, it made me sick that everyone knew what was happening to my family.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Kelly, helped her with a fill-in-the-blank book of her favorite memories that she didn’t get the chance to share with me. When they gave it to me after her death, all I could feel was numbness.

Now, I’m glad I have at least some of her memories for myself. Like the fact that one of her high school boyfriends ate the tails off of shrimp, or how she spent every summer in the Cayman Islands because that’s where all of her family lives.

There’s a point in the book where the shaky, penciled handwriting turns into defined blue pen. They only got about a third of the way through the pages.
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I always hate seeing fish tanks in public places.

M.D. Anderson has a ton of them, I guess to distract you from whatever shitty diagnosis you have to keep going back to that hospital to face.

Staring into those fish tanks when my mom was being treated or undergoing surgery was my main source of entertainment at that hospital, other than frequent visits to the gift shop or cafeteria to buy sanitized stuffed animals, crunchy aluminum balloons and lumpy mac-and-cheese.

That building took a chunk of my childhood from me. The feeling of the scratchy blankets under my legs as my mother’s weak arms clutched my brother and me, my father leaning over us as we collectively sobbed, the air leaving my lungs so quickly and the adrenaline surging through me as I realized I’d have to grow up without a mother.

That I wouldn’t have her at my wedding.

That she wouldn’t be able to share with me those things only a mother can share with her daughter – her first kiss, who she went to prom with, how to shave her legs, how to be a woman. That later I wouldn’t get to share with her my first kiss, or first boyfriend, or the life I’d make for myself.

That my story would continue even when hers ends.

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The ending of her story makes its way into mine constantly.

There’s a spot in I-45 on my way home that always propels me to the backseat of my dad’s SUV on the way to the hospice. My granny is clutching the car’s ceiling handle and my baby brother just stares ahead.

“Jeffy, slow down,” my grandpa says in the passenger seat to my dad. He’s probably going at least 20 mph over, but for a good reason.

We finally get there, and my dad goes into the back while one of my family members explains to me that it’s happening: My mother is dying. Someone tells me I can go back and see her to say goodbye. I ask if she’ll hear me. They say she will, but she can’t say anything back.

My brother, who turned 8 just a few days ago, says he will. I’m scared, so I don’t.

She died the next morning.
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We never visited the grave after she was buried.

Something about it made me feel like it was so final, that my mom was truly dead and gone. My brother didn’t want to go either for the longest time.

But a few months before I left for college, I decided I needed to say goodbye to her, and I needed my brother to come with me. That was a challenge, but we made it there.

I made my peace with my mother then, accepting the finality of it all. Even though the memories – and lack thereof – came rushing to the forefront of my brain, I was glad I did it.

I’ll go back again to update her on where my life goes, but I don’t know how soon that will be.
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I don’t remember what she liked to wear, or what she smelled like. But faint outlines of her hit me every day – with framed pictures and notes I’ve saved of her handwriting when she was healthy and just my mom.

I can feel her sometimes, when I hit a milestone or do something she’d be proud of. My dad used to give me notes on some of my birthdays that they had tucked away for when I’d get older. I don’t know how far they got with those, and I’m afraid to ask.

One day they’ll run out – they may have already.

One day I’ll have to face the fact that I won’t have any more of my mother.

One day I’ll turn 41, and I’ll know an age she never had the chance to.

Almost for more years than I had with her, I’ve faced what life is like without her helping me write my story. But she’ll always be my contributing author, even if I’m the one holding the pen.