I wasn't with my mother on her final Mother's Day. It's painful to remember, but I had just visited her with my six-week-old youngest, to introduce her to the final grandchild she would ever know and hold and love. So when my oldest brother asked if I was planning to join him the following weekend in Florida, I said – I can't, it's too expensive – I was just there. Plus, my husband planned to whisk me off to New York City, so I could visit and eat at my favorite places.
So because I wasn't sure that it would be her last, because I naively thought she would have at least another year, not just another five months, I didn't go, and there's little I regret more. I went again and again later in the summer and into the fall, but not that Mother's Day weekend. And now, every Mother's Day, I wonder, what is Mother's Day when you're motherless? When you have no card or flowers to send or a mother to call first thing in the morning. Even when you are a mother being celebrated by your husband and children's it's never the same.
When you're a motherless mother, the day of your mother's death splits your life forever in two, like a heavy branch after a lightning strike: life WITH Mami and life WITHOUT her.
Since my mother’s death, I’ve realized that mothering without your own mother just a phone call, a text message, a plane, train or car ride away is incredibly lonely. Nobody–not your best friends or even your siblings–wants to hear about all of your children’s little accomplishments … that star at tae kwan do, the all-A report card, the kindergarten dance recital.
Sure, I can tell a few of my friends and family some of these things, but only Mami would have truly cared, been excited about every detail, every project and pirouette, time out and reward sticker.
I wasn’t completely aware of how much I depended on Mami until she died. My oldest had received a yellow brick (a special reward system for good citizenship at his elementary school) from his kindergarten teacher, so I immediately pulled her number up on my old BlackBerry's speed dial and hit send. Then it hit me that she wasn't going to answer the phone, so I dropped it desperate and despondent that I would never share be able to mother with Mami at my side again.
The problem with grieving the loss of a mother when you have young kids is that grandmothers are everywhere. Try going to the mall, the playground, a fair, the supermarket -- anywhere really -- without bumping into grandmothers. Whether they're Abuelas, Bubbes, Nanas, Tatas, Yayas, or Grandmas – they're all around, as they should be, with their grandchildren in tow.
The world becomes a painful series of reminders of what you don’t have. I felt resentful every time I went to a child’s birthday party and saw well-meaning grandmothers doting over their birthday boy or girl. I felt bitter every time I saw my mother-in-law delight in my children or call them her "special prince" or princess. It’s not fair, I thought. If I can’t have a mother (or a father, I might add), why should anyone else, why should my husband?
I wanted desperately to hit an “ignore” button and magically erase the sight of grandmothers and their grandchildren. The very sight was an offense.
Eventually I stopped wanting to sob every single day. I stopped wanting to tear my hair out whenever my mother-in-law came to visit – well, at least when it came to seeing her with the kids.
I stopped considering the sight of grandmothers a personal affront. But I’ve never stopped missing my mother. And I’ve never stopped talking to her. I don’t go for the phone anymore, but I tell her just the same. I smile a secret smile and talk to her in my head and in my heart.
She talks back, too, urging me to give my kids a break she never would’ve given me, to wear earrings and lipstick more often, sometimes she says these things through some magical connection with my daughter,
A few months ago, my daughter asked me who had given her a particular doll, and I told her, "Abuela." A little later, I overheard my three-year-old son say "Who's Aboola?" and my heart clenched, horrified that he couldn't even recognize the name. My daughter, who's 7 now, took him to a framed photo of my parents looking fabulous in their 30s, and said: "Not Aboola, Abuela. She was Mama's Mama. She died. Mama still gets sad about Abuela dying."
My three-year-old may not understand death, but his wise older sister apparently does. I couldn't have explained it better myself. And I couldn't have asked for a better response:
"Ohhhhh, I know who Abuela is," he laughed. "I thought Mama had said Aboola!"
It’s still ridiculously difficult and lonely to be without her physical presence, but I’m lucky. I had the kind of mother whose influence, whose love, I still feel daily.