Nothing in my life has ever made me feel more like both an adult and a child at the same time than my mother’s death. I’ve struggled to recognize – and perhaps process — the multi-layered emotions I’ve experienced in the months since she died, and it just occurred to me as I stared at this blank screen that the collision of these two phases of life might be why.
Losing a parent makes you feel like an adult. Getting married, buying a house, having a kid, getting divorced – all of those are adult things. But I’ve never felt more adultish than when my mom died. All my life she cared for me. And then, right near the end, I cared for her.
And in caring for her I did things that I never thought I could do. Or at least I wondered whether I could do them. But I did them. Some of those things were difficult, but it didn’t matter. My two sisters and I did them.
We did them because she spent our entire lives showing us how much she loved us. Every single day. Without fail. And although I tried to be a good son, I can’t help but wonder whether I came up a bit short in showing her how much I loved her. How much I appreciated her. But if I came up short, at least I know that those things we did near the end showed her how much we loved her.
Caring for a sick parent is the natural order of things, I guess. Children are supposed to live longer than their parents. It’s an incomprehensible level of sadness when that doesn’t happen. But just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
In the relationship between me and my mom, she was always the parent, and I was always the child. I guess for some people – those poor, unlucky people who weren’t blessed with great parents – that’s not always the case. But for me it was. I was the child. She was the mother. She loved me. She cared for me. She supported me. She looked out for me. No matter what happened in my life – poor decisions, embarrassing revelations, shameful actions – I never had to doubt whether my mom was on my side. Her love was constant.
And because I knew that her love was constant, I knew that I had something on which I could always rely. In success, sadness, heartbreak, achievement, frustration, and everything else, she served as an anchor. A safe harbor to which I could always retreat. I could live my life and sometimes make mistakes, sometimes get things right, and no matter how it turned out she’d be there.
Until she wasn’t.
Or, rather, until she couldn’t.
It’s been 211 days since she could be there. And on most of those days, at least once, I’ve thought about turning to her, and then realize that I can’t. She’s gone and I’m still the child, looking for her to anchor me. Looking for the safe harbor. Longing to know that she still has my back.
The absence is overwhelming sometimes.
But then the natural order of things takes over. The child has become the adult. And because that child had a mother who loved him, and nurtured him, and taught him, and guided him, and supported him, he’s okay. He has made it through.
He has made it through because the success of any good parent is preparing the child to excel without them. By always being there when I needed her, she prepared me for life after her. She taught me the important stuff. She made sure that I’d be okay after she was gone, even though I’ve often wondered whether I would be.
I won’t hear my mom’s voice this Mother’s Day. I’ll miss her, like I always do. But I’ll also smile because she was my mother. And if ever a person deserved her own day, she did. I could not have asked for a better mother – or a better grandmother to her grandchildren, by the way – than my mom.
So I’ll find a way to celebrate this Mother’s Day. Maybe I’ll eat a Dove bar, or watch an episode of Coach, or read a few pages of a Diana Gabaldon book – all things that she loved.
Or maybe, if I really want to do something that captures her spirit, I’ll hug my own kids and tell them that I love them.
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