In honor of Mother’s Day, my first without my mom – a day I have been dreading for months now – I wrote this piece to honor her, and my children, and all of you who find yourself motherless on Mother’s Day.
My mom was my first teacher and she taught me so many things throughout my life. Perhaps the most important thing she taught me was how to be a mom myself – both through her example and her many words of advice during the 14 years I was lucky enough to have her here as I learned how to navigate this crazy world of motherhood.
But, I don’t think I really understood everything (anything?) she taught me until she was gone. For it was only through her leaving that I finally grew up and learned how to face the world on my own.
I had no choice really. But, as they say, life goes on.
When my mom died I lost my mentor, my guide, my shelter in the storm. In an instant I went from being both a mother and a daughter to being the mother. Sure, I had been a mom for years, but my mom was always there to lend a hand or an ear or offer some advice. I was never, ever truly on my own before.
But now . . . it is only me.
That realization was almost too much to handle. And it is definitely too much to ask. I had no idea how I was going to do this alone.
But there I was – not only newly motherless, but suddenly the person in charge. The person my family was now going to look to to hold us together, to make the plans, to create the memories, to be the rock – to be the mom.
I realized very quickly that I didn’t have time to indulge in my own grief, because I had so much to do – decisions to make, plans to arrange, people to contact, family to care for. So I took a deep brief, set aside my grief and emotions, and stuffed the sentimental girl I used to be, just a few short months ago, down into the dregs of my soul.
I didn’t do this willingly, mind you. I resisted at first. Heck, I’m still resisting now – almost one year later.
I’m too young to be the matriarch, I thought. I don’t know enough. I lack both the wisdom and the will.
But, no-one asked me if I wanted the job. My mom passed away and the title passed to me – the only woman left to assume the position. So, now, like it or not, I am the matriarch of our family. The most reluctant matriarch.
When we first arrived in town after she died, we were sitting around my aunt’s dining room table discussing the details of the funeral and the topic of her eulogy came up. Not yet used to my new reality, not yet accepting of the crucial role I would now play in my family, I spoke up quickly: “I can’t do it,” I said. “I just can’t. I couldn’t possibly hold it together long enough to get through a speech.”
Now, you should know this about me – I am highly emotional and no-one would ever have expected me to be the one to deliver any eulogy, much less my own mother’s. Typically, my Dad or my brother would have been the chosen speaker, but for obvious reasons that wasn’t going to work this time. So on that first day we, okay I, elected my husband to give the eulogy.
But as the days passed, I began to understand that I was living in a new reality. And as I started composing the speech and making other important decisions about her funeral, it slowly dawned on me that in this new world, I was the person in charge.
No-one was going to step in and make things better or easier. No-one could lessen my pain or relieve me of my responsibility. There was no-one to whom I could delegate these new tasks that were now mine and mine alone.
The more I wrote about my mom’s life, I knew I wanted, even needed, to be the one to speak about her. And even though it would be hard, indeed because it would be hard, it was imperative to me to stand up and speak from my heart about my very best friend. I felt it was the least I could do – the last gift I could give to her after the lifetime of love and gifts she had given to me.
Make no mistake, we would never be even in that department. As a mother myself, this I know to be true. No matter how much I loved her, love her still, I know her love for me was exponential. Her sacrifices, her selflesness, her unconditional love were apparent in everything she did.
I know I mean the world to my own children. I have purposely made them the center of my world and tried to let each one of them know just how special he or she is through my words and actions. And I guess they probably think of me with the same adoration that I bestowed upon my own mother – although that is hard for me to understand, becasue I know all too well my faults, my mistakes, my shortness of temper, my impatience, my quickness to anger or my lack of attention, and it is hard to reconcile the mother that I am with the mother that I long to be. I can only hope that I am half the mom that she was.
So, like it or not, I am learning to embrace this new role, as a most reluctant matriarch. I’m learning to laugh more easily and smile a little bit each day. I’m doing my best to make her proud; to continue our family traditions, and make new traditions; to make everyone feel as loved and as special as she did everyday.
And what I said before – that eulogizing her was the best gift I could give her, I was wrong. The best gift I can give her is to follow her example, live selflessly and love completely and become the matriarch I was destined to be.