It's a strange feeling - being pregnant and being asked by your doctor about your history. What if you don't know much about it? What if you don't know how much you weighed at birth or how your mother's pregnancy went (with you inside her).
Do you even know if you were breastfed? Colicky? Were you a difficult toddler? How did you do in preschool? When were you potty trained?
And when you have your own baby - who do you ask for advice? An older friend, maybe. Or an aunt or older cousin. But can it ever be the same as having your own mother there - your baby's grandmother?
Many motherless mothers will tell you that they never missed their mothers so much as when they had their own babies. You want to turn around and tell her things, ask her things, brag, complain, sigh, laugh...but she is long gone. You may not really have known her. Are you parenting like she did? Would she approve of your choices? And should it matter?
Dead mothers get to be angels for life. When you lose her as a child, you never get to that stage of questioning her, of judging her, or of seeing her as the normal, flawed human we all are.
She remains permanently etched in heavenly status. Never criticized, no eyes rolling as she starts her "back in my day..." story for the hundredth time. She stays a mystery - divine, beautiful, and young. All mothers are angels to their young daughters. When she dies young, she will remain that way. No aging, no having to come to terms with Alzheimer's, strokes or other ravages of time. She left when she was young and when you were young. At school you were the kid with the dead mother. Mother's Day made you feel lost, unimportant and somehow betrayed. When your teacher hands out paper and crayons for everyone to make Mother's Day cards, she tells you that you can make one for an aunt or a grandparent. "It'll be the same thing," she says. How little she knows.
And your mother will never be the friend that mothers' often become, as we too, become mothers ourselves. Those teenage battle lines long gone, she has become your ally, your protector, your most avid supporter.
If there is no-one else to ask, that mystery becomes even deeper. Did she love you, like you love your children? What went on in her mind when (and if) she knew she was dying? How we may wish she had left us a letter. We could see her handwriting and know that she touched the very paper we now hold in her hands. Our fingerprints over hers. DNA to DNA. Some of us have a faded photo. Some of us have nothing. Just flashes of dim memories, like a movie we know we saw years ago but don't quite remember. And there we remain, feeling like a foundling they talked about in tales of long ago.
Now it is our turn as mothers. How defining it becomes - the motherless child becoming the motherless mother. We tend to obsess over our children. Over our health. Over our last words to them before we leave for work or a trip to the store - just in case we don't see them again. And we keep quiet about how much we really think about it.
If our mother died in an accident, will some dark poetic turn of events cause me to die that way too?
If she died of disease, will I? Will I leave my children too, and continue a legacy of children with mothers shrouded in silence?
The closer we come to her age at death, the more we think about it. And how young she really was. And how mad we get that it defines almost everything we do as mothers ourselves but how we can't stop it.
Some mysteries will always stay that way. No moment of clarification, no shouts of Eureka! We live with a powerful mystery that guides our hand even though we don't know why.
Sometimes that mystery can lead to depression, maternal negligence or maternal obsession. If it does, we need to talk about it to our doctors and get it fixed - because it CAN be fixed.
For the rest of us - we live with the angel, the mysterious woman who made us, loved us and then suddenly left us. Never coming back.
We fast forward our lives and become her. A grown woman with children, but this time praying for a different outcome. Crossing our fingers that our own children never have to live with the same ghosts we do.
There are many books that help women through loss, motherhood and their own standing in life.
Some resources -
Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman
Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman
The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father by Maxine Harris.
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