Thursday, March 31, 2016
Missing The Good Mamas
I had never known such grief as when my mother died twelve years ago today. I was 40 with young children still and a very bereaved girl for quite a long time. Still, springtime helped. My children helped. My friends and husband did, too.
Now it seems all the good mothers are falling like rain. I can't log onto a social media account without hearing about yet another mother passing away, and I find myself recalling them from sporting events of my childhood or the carpool line or classroom parties. They were room mothers and Brownie troop leaders and youth group sponsors. They organized band booster fundraisers and school festivals and church suppers and bazaars. Some worked outside the home; others didn't. I loved them all, even if I didn't realize it at the time.
A couple of summers ago, a childhood friend's mom was in town for a very sad reason. Her middle child, a "girl" in her mid 40s was suffering from late-stage breast cancer, and they were participating in a clinical trial. We met for a quick lunch, arranged by the sick woman's sister. She was hoping social visits would help them both cope during a very rough time.
That afternoon we did not discuss cancer. I had been down this evil road with my mother, and I knew firsthand that no one really wants to talk about it all the time. Instead, we caught up on 25 years of births and marriages. I could tell my friend's sister wasn't much interested. She'd been forced into a "play date," and we all know how that goes past a certain age. Still, it was good to see her grown up, a bit like being thrown into a time machine. And there was not a hint of sickness or even sadness about her.
What I recall most about our lunch was my friend's mom, a beautiful, stylish woman, one I had admired as a child and a teenager. She was funny and feisty and fierce. She had a lovely home, had survived a terrible divorce, yet through it all she maintained a sense of fun, a sparkle others might only envy. As a motherless daughter, I can't tell you how comforting it was to be in her midst. She was not a sad mother with a sick daughter on a desperate mission for a cure. She was just a mom, like so many of those moms I had taken for granted in my childhood. She was a woman who was interested in my life and my story, then and now.
At some point during lunch, and I confess I am struggling to recall her exact words, she looked at me and said, "I always thought you were such a sweet girl." And there it was again, her beaming smile, her focus on me. It caught me completely off guard. It had been a long time since I'd had that kind of attention, especially from someone who remembered me in my youth.
This is entirely lost as we age. People are no longer focused on us, on our well being and our place and promise in this world. No one tells us we are "sweet girls."
For that one brief lunch I felt it again, the presence of a mother, not my own, sadly, but one of the same generation, one who had known me as a child and teenager and young woman, one who had a lovely bridal shower for me, though that first marriage (like her own) was ill fated.
She has since lost that middle daughter. I watched the remarkable and inspiring story unfold on Facebook. Through it all she smiled, both of them did, a miracle I still marvel at regularly.
What does any of it mean? I haven't a clue. Why did my mother die at 64 instead of 94? How long will I be here for my girls, and maybe, if I'm lucky, for their children? I have no idea. What I do know is we leave an indelible mark on those around us. That Sunday school class you teach? Your biggest fan might be the child who seems not to pay attention. That rather impolite kid your son or daughter insists on having sleep over again and again? Your family dinners may inspire him or her in ways you can't fathom.
I write this in tribute to my mother. But I write this also in tribute to the mothers who were kind to me (and tolerant) as I struggled on my bumpy road to adulthood. Here's hoping I might pay it forward.