The day my mother died was hands down, the worst day of my life. I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, and ready to face the world. What I was not prepared to do was face the world without my mother by my side. Unfortunately, the world does not stop just because mine crashed down around me, so I found a way to pick up the pieces and move on. I began a career; I purchased a home, I got married. Every step of the way, I wished my mother were there. I wished she had been there to give me career advice or to listen to me vent on my bad days. I wished she had been there to help me decorate my home and to pick out paint colors and curtains. I wished she had been there to help me plan the wedding of my dreams and to see me walk down the aisle towards the love of my life.
But more than any of those days, I wish she were here every day now that I am trying to navigate life as a mother to two daughters.
When my mother first died, I read a book titled, “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman. Reading that book brought many tears and smiles and gave me words to lean upon when I found myself lost. I spent the next ten years navigating my journey through life as a motherless daughter until I started dating my now-husband and quickly found myself in uncharted territory – I had become a motherless mother.
How do you know how to be a mother when you do not have one to call? When my nephew was born, my sister called me for every question as if I had any answers, but who else could she call? She relied on the expertise of her mother-in-law until, just after my nephew’s first birthday, she unexpectedly passed away herself.
Who could she call about that first terrible poop after the baby was born?
Who could she call to help decide if his fever is worth a trip to the doctor or just teething?
Who could she call when he was fussy and inconsolable and will not go to sleep no matter what?
Who could she call when she needed a break, a babysitter, a date night with her husband?
My stepdaughters are older, and my husband and I have majority custody of them, so their needs are different from those of my nephew. At 12 and 15, we are dealing with puberty and emotions and dating and mean classmates.
Who am I supposed to call for advice when they are going through heartbreak?
Who am I supposed to call to remind me of the dumb things I did as a teenager?
Who am I supposed to call when they have worn down my very last thread of patience?
Who am I supposed to call to show up in my place if I am unable to make it to a basketball game or an awards banquet?
Who am I supposed to call?
For most people, the answer to all those questions, and a thousand more is simple – you call your mother. But what are those of us without a mother supposed to do? I don’t have the answers, and I genuinely wish I did. What I do have is the knowledge that my mother imparted upon me during her brief life and the memories she left behind. And so, I am moving forward at full speed, armed with those two delicate things – knowledge and memories. Some days are easy, some days are hard, and some days are flat-out impossible. Some days I feel fantastic about the decisions I made that day and know that I am setting my girls up for success in life. Some days I cry in the bathtub at the end of the night because I cannot figure out where the day went so wrong. But then the next day, I get up and try again.
We talk about my mother. I tell her stories often; I speak her name regularly. My girls ask me questions about her that sometimes are hard to answer, but I make sure to answer them anyway. My husband does not shy away from bringing her up, either. I cook her recipes and talk to her about her being in the kitchen. I wear her jewelry and reminisce over every piece. I have her favorite diamond in my wedding ring so that I know she is with me every moment of every day. My mother shaped who I am today, and I cannot let that get lost in the simple fact that she is not physically here anymore, no matter how painful that can sometimes be. My girls may never know their grandmother in person, but they know her in spirit.
My sister and I have taken on the past few years of parenting with the help of those around us. Our dad is great, and we have forged solid relationships with aunts and our mother’s best friends. We have learned to reach out of our circle and not to be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. We have learned to adapt to life as motherless mothers, even as some days are still impossible. We have grown closer to each other and lean on one another daily as we fumble through decisions for our children.
The day my mother died was the hardest day of my life, and moving on without her continues to be hard every single day. But one day, I hope my daughters look back on the knowledge and memories that I have drawn strength from to find their strength and wisdom. I hope they understand the unconditional love that my mother had for me, and that I now have for them. And most of all, I hope I get to remain by their side for as long as possible, so they do not have to traverse the difficult journey that is life with only memories of me.