How Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds have helped me celebrate my changing relationship with my mother
This year has been a tough one, to say the least. But then, just a few days before the new year, I found myself hit with a celebrity death that has struck me harder than I expected. To be honest, I’m not particularly close to celebrity culture — I don’t share the same connection to it that my peers do, though I understand why that facet of pop culture holds such meaning for others. But I was caught off guard by the way Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ passings have left me feeling.
Growing up, I was raised primarily by my mother. My parents were divorced, and though I had a particular closeness to my father as a child, it was my mother with whom I grew to have a special bond.
Over the years, we’ve grown more similar in appearance — we often get mistaken for sisters by strangers when we go out somewhere together. With her youthful face and heavy laugh, it’s easy to see how. She’s a strong, kind woman who taught me so many lessons — including to always let the ones I love know how I feel about them, and to remember that I’m strong enough to follow my dreams.
By their legendary careers and impacts on the world, you can tell those are certainly some of the lessons Debbie shared with Carrie.
Even though, admittedly, I was never a big Star Wars fan, Carrie was a familiar and important force to me — from the way she remained so open about her identity as a woman with a mental illness, to the way that she advocated for more women to have a space within nerd culture — a genre that had been previously reserved only for boys, heavy with sexist and oppressive themes.
Likewise, of course, Debbie Reynolds was a dynamic and genre-defining force of her own, both as an iconic actress, a captivating dancer, a social activist, and as someone who loved her daughter fiercely and without apology.
I don’t want to remember them for being celebrities, or for being actresses. I want to remember Carrie and Debbie for being the strong women that they were — remembering that I, too, can carry on their legacy in my own small way.
In many ways, I see my own relationship with my mother mirrored in them. And their deaths weigh as reminders that humanity is finite. It’s a heavy burden to carry, to navigate the world without the person who you love more than yourself sometimes — especially if you’ve had to fight to get to that point in your relationship, and Debbie and Carrie’s once-complicated relationship has certainly been documented, often by Carrie herself.
Looking back, I think that I grew closer to my mother as I got older because I could better understand her.
By having my own experiences, I could understand her not as my mother — but as her own person. I got older, and began to better understand her character, based on her reactions when I fumbled or made mistakes. I grew to rely on her to support me through situations that I couldn’t carry alone.
By growing older, I began to see my mother as human — and that was something that we needed to become closer as we both moved on to different phases of life.
Carrie and Debbie may no longer be here physically, but simply by being loving mothers and daughters, we can continue to honor their legacy in our own ways.