“My mother died when I was nineteen. For a long time, it was all you needed to know about me, a kind of vest-pocket description of my emotional complexion: ‘Meet you in the lobby in ten minutes — I have long brown hair, am on the short side, have on a red coat, and my mother died when I was nineteen.’ ” – Anna Quindlen
When I first read that quote by Anna Quindlen and the essay from which it originates, I felt like someone was reading my mind. My mother died when I was 22. Ten years ago today. And in some ways, it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime without her. In other ways, she is very much alive and active in my memories. The way I’ve progressed over the last ten years, I think, is that I no longer wear my loss on my sleeve.
It took a long time for that, though. If you knew my mother, you understand what a sense of pride I had in being her daughter. And what a sense of injustice I felt when she was taken from me. It was the loss of my innocence – my belief that good things happened to good people because they were good. That you could control your fate by living a life that would make your mother proud. Things don’t happen in a straight line like that. And in fact, I think I’ve made her prouder since her death than before.
Sometimes I do grief really well. I hold my head up high and honor her memory. I lend an ear and a shoulder and some words of wisdom to others who are walking the journey. I transform my pain into energy and service. Other times, though, I’m very self-focused and resentful. I mourn the fact that she never met my husband, whom she would have adored. And why didn’t I get to have her at my bridal shower, or with me pouring over magazines as I was planning my dream wedding? She missed the transformation of our family as my niece and then nephews were born – would she recognize us now? And where the hell was she as I’ve been struggling with infertility for two years? Why couldn’t I have her to hold my hand, cry with me, pray for me, struggle with me and love me through the suffering?
And now I journey into this great unknown – motherhood – without her. There is no one I need more now than her. She was the expert. She was the mom I want to be. Now I have only who I am inside to guide me in remembering what that means. When I think about making her proud, I think this is the final test. First, feel your grief and embrace your gifts. Second, use your pain and suffering to inform how you treat others and how you are in the world. Last, become a mother, share her love and pass on her legacy.
In some ways I think it will be impossible not to become my mother. To raise my children with the same sensibility, and to make the same mistakes. At other times, though, I can clearly picture myself up late at night, holding my little baby, and crying out to her in a moment of confusion and desperation, “Where are you? I need you!”