My mother would have turned 63 years old today. She died almost six years ago after a very short but very awful battle with pancreatic cancer. I have thought many times about how I would feel one day when I was expecting a child without her to share the experience with. Would I experience my loss all over again? Now I am here, and really, I still don't think I am totally in tune with those feelings. And maybe I won't until after the baby is born. Because this is my first child, I don't know what role an expecting mother's mother usuallys play in these circumstances, so I guess in one way, I don't really know what I'm missing.
But on the other hand, there is a definite feeling of something missing. The other day, I had to ask my dad whether my mother had breast-fed me-- it obviously never occurred to me to ask her while she was alive. I go to Babies R Us and see other pregnant women shopping there with their mothers, getting advice about what to buy or register for as they go along (and many thanks to my wonderful dad for being a trooper and going stroller shopping with me, offering his valuable opinions about how easily certain models would fold or steer or fit on the train). And while my dear friend Jessica has been a constant source of advice about all things pregnancy-related (it helps that she's a doctor, too, although I try not to abuse my friend privileges too much), I haven't been able to call my mom and ask her if something I am experiencing is normal. And while I have several other "mothers" in my family (in the form of very kind and supportive sisters, aunts, and cousins), all of whom I love and am so grateful for, there's something that just seems different about having your own mom to call in a panic at 3AM when your baby won't stop crying. And I'm just very, very sad not to have that.
I've also thought a great deal about what kind of mother I want to be, especially in relationship to the kind of mother that I had. My mom had many wonderful qualities-- she was a very deep thinker, a beautiful writer and singer, an amazing cook, a sometimes craft artist, a passionate and headstrong woman, and her love for us, albeit sometimes poorly expressed, was a force to be reckoned with. But she also struggled hard with so many demons that haunted her for her entire life-- having been neglected and taken for granted as a child, she was terribly insecure in her relationships, suffered from near-debilitating anxiety about so many things, had difficulty self-actualizing in most of the many endeavors she decided to try, and was, I think, very lonely for most of her life because she never found a way to connect deeply with those around her, including her own kids. She and I fought endlessly, even through my young adulthood, but almost always reconciled in a heap of tears and apologies. I resisted her smothering and hovering but craved their counterparts, her spoiling and nurturing. Her favorite time of year was Christmas. It was then that she could truly shine-- she was a whiz with decorations and she wrapped every package, even the ones for the little kids who could care less, with exquisite care and thought. She took great pride in finding the perfect gifts, and lots of them. She was her best self when she was doing for others, in part because it was then that she could feel best about herself, delighting in the praise and admiration she received for her efforts.
I see a great deal of my mother in myself, both the good and the bad. My task now is to figure out if it's possible to consciously channel the good parts, and to at least be aware of, if not altogether weed out, the bad, if it's possible to honor the way I was raised but also to forge my own path with my family. I've already spent a great deal of time and money in therapy trying to figure these things out, and no doubt will spend more before it's all over. But I do feel strongly that I owe it to my mother, to myself and to my children to be the best of what she was to me, and to avoid, to the extent possible, doing the things she did that I felt hurt me most. I think she would be OK with that. I constantly wish that I had the thirty-plus extra years I expected to have to talk it all out with her.
In closing, I will reprint the lyrics of the song that was playing on the stereo in my parents' living room as my mother died, stubborn and upright in her wheelchair until the end, with all of us holding on to her. My siblings and I have often pondered how apropos that song was for that moment, for that woman. I don't really know what I believe about an afterlife, but I know my mother fervently believed that she would join Jesus in heaven when she died. If that is true, I hope that she is finally free and that she can now see what she has made and be content.
I love you, Mom. I wish you were here.
WHEN MY MORNING COMES AROUND by Iris Dement
When my morning comes around, no one else will be there
So I won't have to worry about what I'm supposed to say
And I alone will know that I climbed that great big mountain,
And that's all that will matter when my mornin' comes around
When my morning comes around, I will look back on this valley
At these sidewalks and alleys where I lingered for so long...
And this place where I now live will burn to ash and cinder
Like some ghost I won't remember when my mornin' comes around
When my morning comes around, from a new cup I'll be drinking
And for once I won't be thinking that there's something wrong with me
And I'll wake up and find that my faults have been forgiven
And that's when I'll start living . . . when my mornin' comes around