Three and a half years ago my mother died, suddenly and tragically. One moment I was washing dishes and the next I was identifying her wedding bands. She was twenty days from her 54th birthday. After that night, I knew for certain that no matter what we do, we are never guaranteed another day with those we love. There are so many things I never asked my mother, so many topics I still need her thoughts on. So I started writing letters to my own daughter, so she would never have to ask herself what her mother thought or felt.
The following is the letter I wrote to her on May 12, 2014 - the day after my first motherless Mother’s Day.
It’s the day after Mother’s Day. My first motherless Mother’s Day. I survived it, probably because essentially it’s no worse than being motherless every other day of the year. I have no cards or gifts or flowers to commemorate the day, there is no tangible gift. I didn’t want a gift this year because for years I bought my mother gifts for Mother’s Day, and now those gifts are sitting in a house that I will soon clean out to make my own. It is my last gift to her: to take the home she loved and fill it with love and laughter and the smell of southern cooking, the way she always did. You see, she couldn’t take any of the things that we bought her along with her, but I do hope she was able to take her memories, because I am sure even Heaven gets lonely without the three of you there.
Ironically in my attempt to escape thoughts of my mother, I found myself only steps away from the spot where we spent countless summer hours sitting under an umbrella and watching you and your brothers play in the sand while we talked about everything and nothing all at once. It was in those moments that all of the years of pushing and pulling against my mother became worth it. It was there in those beach chairs with the sound of waves breaking in the distance, that I told her how badly I wanted children but couldn’t conceive, it was there we rejoiced when finally I found out you were growing within me, and it was there that we planned your perfect future with no clue she would never see any of it. We were cocooned in our shaded world where Maw Maws watched their granddaughters become women and danced at their weddings instead of being ripped away, leaving us to alternate between the world we planned with them and the one we must navigate without them. It was those moments with her and those glimpses of her -- not just as my mother and your grandmother -- but as a woman and a friend that she gave me every year for my birthday and that I wish I could give her now. And although every moment was not perfection, I am reminded often that our perfectly imperfect life fits me just fine.
For the past six and half months I have felt like an anchorless ship, tossing on a sea that is not always calm. The thing no one mentions about losing your mother, is the irony of it. You see the one person I want to talk to about what happened to her, is her. The only person I feel would understand and talk me through the pure injustice of what happened, is my mother, and yet she’s not here, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to be okay with that.
I was thinking today that there should be some magic clause that brings the people we lose back to us to help us understand why we lost them in the first place, because although others will talk us through it, frankly it’s only the thoughts of the one we lost that we care about; it is their reassurance that they are happy and in a better place that we need, their affirmation that we crave, not the words of people who only hope that it’s true. I want to ask her how to heal the broken pieces of my heart, and yet I remember being three years old and her holding me against her as she cried for her grandmother, I can still feel her sadness as she mourned her own parents till the day that she became the mourned. I fear that I will never get over her because I see that she never got over them. And really I guess that’s the way it works.
The thing about missing your mother, is that you don’t know you miss her all the time. It is only when I let myself think about it and truly feel it, that I realize my body has become weakened by the weight of missing her. And though I wish I was given power over when I miss her, I am not. I can go days, maybe a week or two without that sickening feeling when reality sets in and I realize she is actually gone and not simply living in another town or on vacation.
I miss her most not when I am at my lowest, but when I am at my highest.
I miss her when I am so happy that I cannot wait to share that happiness with her,
I miss her when I am excited and I need someone to be excited with me.
I miss her when I have a plan or a dream that I want to hear spoken aloud so that it gains weight and becomes reality.
I miss her when I need someone to believe in me the way that only a mother truly can.
I miss her when I need someone to think it can be done because I want it, when I need practicality to weigh less than the pure fire in my gut.
I miss her when I dream peacefully and wake to the feel of her kiss on my forehead and the certainty that she has been with me.
I wasn’t always a great daughter. I believe that is true for most of us with any real spirit of our own. And yet, I can’t truly regret most of it. -- I was a daughter and she was a mother, and neither of us could escape the struggle of me becoming who I needed to be, and her making sure that I survived it. My mother rarely, if ever, yelled. We waged a silent war of wills that we somehow survived and came out closer in the end.
As I scrolled through Facebook today, after avoiding it on Mother’s Day, I was swamped with picture after picture and post after post of mothers and children and the expressions of love and appreciation that they shared. I wonder though if they will feel this way on July 28 -- the day I have a birthday without the woman who gave me life or October 17 -- the anniversary of the last time I hugged my mother and told her I loved her, thinking I would talk to her the next day and eat at her table that Sunday. I hope that even on those days that seemingly mean nothing, mothers are loved, and appreciated, and told so.
As I sit in my mother’s house, filled with things but no people, I realize what she knew all along. You, baby girl, are my greatest gift, my greatest blessing. I do not need gifts or flowers; in all this world, all I need is you, and your brothers, and love that comes without conditions.
Happy Mother’s Day to the three of you, because without you, I would have no reason for celebration.