I’m not going to lie: when your mother dies suddenly, 15-20 years before you thought you’d have to deal with this inevitability, it totally sucks.
But anytime I start to wallow in something vaguely resembling self-pity, I think about my aunt, whose mom died suddenly when she was only 13 years old. I think about my husband, whose mom died suddenly when he was only 12.
I tell myself that I had almost 38 years with my mom. That’s roughly three times as many as either of those two got.
Days like today – the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing – I can’t help but think about all the things I should’ve said but didn’t. All the questions I should’ve asked but didn’t. All of the stories I should’ve memorized but didn’t.
I thought I had more time.
My mom wasn’t old. If 50 is the new 40, then 60 is the new 50, and everybody knows 50 isn’t old.
I thought I had a lot more time.
I’ve been writing about my mother a lot, because writing is how I process. People sometimes comment on what a wonderful relationship my mom and I must have had. If you know me – really know me – you know that’s not the case. I mean, yes, I loved my mother. And she loved me, too, fiercely. But ours was a complicated relationship, not without more than its fair share of drama. We fought a lot. Sometimes those fights stretched weeks or even months.
I got my stubbornness from her.
I got a lot of things from her. More than one person has told me that sometimes I use words like knives. So did Nancy. I am haunted by some of the things she said to me in anger. Even though she almost always apologized later, I can’t unhear those things. Just as I’m sure there are quite a few things I said to her that she wished she could unhear, too.
A few years ago, my mom told me that when I was born, her mother told her that the best piece of advice she could give her was to never let me get a big head. Keep her ego in check, Nana told her. Never stop pointing out her flaws.
This was one of those light bulb moments for me. Suddenly, it made sense why my mother praised me to others but spent so many years criticizing me to my face. “I didn’t know any better,” she confessed. “I thought that’s what a good mom did.”
She told me how sorry she was that she followed Nana’s advice, and that now she could see how damaging it had been to my self-esteem.
It made me love her more.
Not only that she apologized, but that she recognized that she had things to apologize for. Not everybody does that. I’ve been waiting for my father to apologize since I was 21. He doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for. So we have no relationship, and probably never will. But that’s another story entirely.
My mother wasn’t a perfect mother, not by a long shot. And I wasn’t a perfect daughter, not by a long shot. But we were there for each other when it mattered the most. I fled to her arms in some of the most horrific moments of my adult life. And in those moments, she made me feel safe. She made me feel loved.
“There’s something about mothers,” my aunt always says. No matter how bad the arguments, or how deep the criticism, or how awful the whatever else – wanting your mother is like this primal instinct. You look to her when you’re seeking that soft place to fall.
I’m an only child, and when Joe and I got together, my mom took it hard. She was jealous of the time I spent with him – the time I didn’t spend with her. She would get jealous of my two best friends, too; she always felt I prioritized everybody over her. It wasn’t true, but to Nancy, it felt true.
We’d always talked about taking a trip to Iceland.
We never made it to the Booths Corner Farmers Market together.
We didn’t go to the theater as much as we should have.
We didn’t play enough card games.
She never made me the crab cakes she’d been promising me since my 36th birthday.
I never got to show her the mother’s album I made her of my wedding. It was supposed to be her Christmas present. I’d actually made it over the summer and debated whether or not to give it to her for her birthday. I decided against it. We’d stopped doing birthday presents years ago.
She never got to see that album. She never got to read the book she was so excited I was writing.
She’ll never read any words I write ever again.
When someone close to us dies, and we’re reminded of how short and unpredictable life can be, we make ourselves all sorts of promises. I won’t take time for granted ever again. I will regret nothing.
I thought these things when my Gram passed, even though she was older and had been declining for years. Why didn’t I visit her more? Call her more?
And when Marian – beautiful, 35-year-old, mother of two gorgeous little children Marian – when she passed away I thought those things again. Don’t hesitate to tell people you love them. Give them your words. Give them your time.
Give them your heart.
All day people have been sending me emails and text messages and, in the case of my amazerful husband, I even got a gorgeous bouquet of sunflowers. His note read, “Sweet, I know you miss your mom. We all do. Here’s something she loved for someone she loved.”
And that’s when whatever veneer of “okay” I’d been holding on to cracked open, and I started to cry.
My mom wasn’t old, and she wasn’t supposed to die at 61, but she did. I can’t change anything that happened or how it happened.
But I can tell Joe how much I love him, each and every day. I can spend more time with the people who make me feel loved, too. I can call my aunt more, and stop putting off…well, anything that I keep putting off.
I can be happy, and I can live the life I know my mom would have wanted me to live.
I can honor her memory that way.
I can live without any more regrets.