I came across a blog today posted on Facebook that was directed toward those who are experiencing the impending dread of Mother’s Day when their own mother has died. Of course it’s been weighing on me, the coming holiday that I cannot participate in from the daughter perspective. I can certainly experience it from the Mother perspective. My kids will be sweet to me and it will be a lovely day. The blog was pretty simple and offered advice for surviving the day well. Give the gift of your time to other people you love, practice some self care like doing yoga or taking a long walk, allowing yourself some time to honor your memory of your mom, and finally, choose to be grateful. It’s good advice but I have to admit that my first thought was of all of the children out there who have or had crappy moms. In my work I see the effects of really bad parenting everyday. I felt a twinge of regret that I was feeling so sad when there are too many people out there who cannot remember their moms fondly. I felt sorrow for those people who must avoid social media during Mother’s Day for an entirely different reason. I AM grateful to have had a mom that was wonderful beyond belief. Sure she was flawed, made tons of mistakes and didn’t always know what she was doing when it came to being a mom (who does?). But I miss her imperfect self. I do feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having been lucky enough to have a mother I adored. Cross gratitude off the list, I have that in spades.
You were barely 18 when you got pregnant the first time. You were a senior in high school, an honor student, the apple of your father’s eye and head cheerleader. I hear stories that my grandfather didn’t speak to you for years after you got pregnant. I know how it broke your heart and that a piece of you never recovered. I have also heard the story of how your parents forced you to drive to West Virginia the day after they learned of the pregnancy because your boyfriend wasn’t old enough to get married in Ohio. I know it’s not what you wanted. I suspect it’s the root cause of your inability to connect with your son, my brother. Three years later, at the age of 21, I arrived. From the stories I have heard, everyone adored me. You liked to tell me that my brother would sit for hours next to my crib watching me and talking to me, he loved me so much. That’s sweet and perhaps a little creepy. As a child I remember the day I realized that your name wasn’t Mom, that you had a different name: Donna. I remember the day you tried to explain to me that checks weren’t money and that having a checkbook didn’t mean you could buy things. I had a hard time grasping it and I was pretty sure you were lying to me about it. Why would checks exist if you couldn’t use them? You used to come into my room at bedtime and scratch my back softly or play with my hair and talk. I don’t remember what we talked about but I know that, to this day, nothing is more comforting to me than having my back scratched softly or my hair played with.
I remember the day you told us we would be going to live with our dad because you needed some time to get your life in order. I knew something wasn’t right with you. I knew. But I didn’t care and I wanted to stay with you no matter what. But he took us and it was the hardest few years of my life without you. I know it was for you too.
My teen years, when I hated you, were tough. I am sorry for the way I treated you and for my anger. I understand now that you did the best you could with what you had. But some of your choices impacted me even more than I understood at the time. Most of your relationships with men were not good experiences for either of us. You were often a mess and a daughter shouldn’t have to take care of a parent. I know you regretted those choices and I forgive you completely. But during that teenage period, I let you have it. And you took it and you loved me anyway.
Sometime in my late teens, early 20’s we became friends again. Real friends. Adult friends. I got to know your insides. I got to understand you. I saw how you struggled to feel worthy of love. I began to understand why you so desperately needed the attention of men to feel alive. I saw how powerful you were as a business woman, how respected and admired. I realized that you had built a career from nothing, without a degree. You simply worked your way up the corporate ladder from an operator at the phone company to senior management in the business world. I saw you win awards. I saw your confidence in that realm. In those years we got to know each other, really, really well. We talked about a lot of things and my anger over the negative experiences I had as a child became layered under an authentic and intense connection. And so many good memories. When my babies started coming you were there for me every step of the way. You traveled and stayed for weeks at a time and patiently helped me as I navigated motherhood, a much more difficult journey than I had imagined it would be. You adored my children and I loved watching you love them. Even when it drove me crazy that you were too lenient with them or when you spoiled them, I loved how deeply you loved them. When I would drop you off at the airport after one of your visits you would get weepy in the car and try to hug me repeatedly. I found it a little annoying. I knew I would see you again a few months. You were such a sap. I get it now.
As I got deeper into the motherhood experience, the complexity of my love for my kids mixed with the desire to continue being who I was before they arrived was harder than I ever knew it would be. I began to see you through another filter, the mother filter. I began to comprehend what it meant to become a wife and mother at 18. And my forgiveness grew, my respect for you grew, my understanding of you grew.
And then the wonderful Texas year, before the cancer. The year when we both lived in Texas, just miles from each other. That was the year that I suddenly had a family to lean on.You were my family. You offered to pick up the kids sometimes. You had them over so I could do an exercise class. We went to lunch. We saw movies. We did lots and lots of shopping and traveling and sharing meals. I leaned on you hard and you were there, you were always there, anytime of day or night. I needed you so much. Thank you.
And then the sickness and the clinging to each other and the fear and the death. I won’t talk about that. Not here. Not now.
This post is about honoring you.
Tonight, I stood next to my daughter for her senior cheerleading presentation. I felt such overwhelming depth of love for that child that I birthed and raised and is turning 18 in just a few weeks, leaving for college in a few months. My god, the love for my children just keeps on growing, it gets deeper as I get to know them as individuals, separate from me. As I learn more about who they are, my love just keeps growing. I know that’s how it was for you too. I feel it in my bones, how much you loved me. It’s in each of my cells, that love.
I would have preferred not to watch you die at the young age of 58 but I learned a lot about who you were during that process. I learned how fucking amazing you were. With your years of chemo, and illness, and fighting. We went to Disney World at the end of your life and you were determined not to miss it, you drove that motorized cart around the parks and you watched your grandchildren have fun. You were dying and what you wanted most was just more time with them, more time with me. I knew you were in pain and yet you suffered for the opportunity to just watch the joy of your grandchildren unfold.
I loved the way you listened to me with complete attention. By my thirties I came to recognize that in your eyes, there was nothing more important then me.
I loved going shopping with you. No one shops the way I do except for you. Oh, wait, turns out your granddaughter Lily can shop like us too…hours in a store without buying a single thing.
I loved the way you sang to the radio, loudly, even when you were off key.
I loved how independent you were, how you weren’t afraid to travel alone. You were incredibly competent and in control by the time you hit 50 years old. You were impressive.
I loved how you color coordinated everything you wore, right down to your eyeliner. (even though I teased you relentlessly about it) It was so weird and you didn’t give a shit. I loved your bling, your obsession with toe nail polish and your 15 pairs of different colored crocs.
I loved how much you loved the beach even though you refused to get in the water. I loved your huge seashell collection. I loved the fact that you had about 50 bikinis when you died. That’s a lot of bikinis, mom. When I go to the beach, that’s where I feel your presence the most. I love the beach so much.
I could go on and on and on. Honoring my mother’s memory. That’s saying a lot.
If I could see you again I would tell that it’s really unfair that you left so young, that I need you still, that I love you and miss you. I would probably just want to hold your bony ass hand for a little while. And I would want to tell you about my kids, every detail. Because who wants to hear someone go on and on about their kids besides grandma? I miss having that with you, maybe more than anything else.
So Donna Jean, my mother, my friend, Happy Mother’s Day.
“that which has been your delight”