Ode to a Motherless Daughter:
It comes over me like a heavy wool blanket..it feels warm at first but then the denseness feels like an overpowering pressure that stops me in mid-breath.
This doesn’t happen every day, every week or month, but it will happen and when it does, it takes me by surprise, some 59 years later. I walk by a mirror and glance up into my eyes and for a moment, I see that little girl whose mother is dead. She didn’t go missing, or get lost or move away. She left me in the most permanent of ways.
My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.
No one wants to be that girl without a mother. No one wants to be singled out in such a brazen way, with pitying glances and pats on the head. No one.
“She’s in a better place now”, they said. “She’s out of pain”. I try never to say those phrases to anyone who is hurting, but I’m sure I have. They slipped out of me because I didn’t know what else to say. Me, not know what to say? This is my area of expertise, but still…. My words are silent.
I remember hearing, “She’s in a better place”, but inside I was screaming, “isn’t her better place with me?..wouldn’t she rather be with me”?
I’ve been saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, but in reality, there was an us. My Dad, my brother, and I. I was four and my brother was eight when our mother died. I know my brother still feels the effects of growing up without a mother. I will have to let him have his own story, but I wanted to acknowledge ‘us’, even though no matter how many are affected, it always comes down to one. The ‘me’ in all of us.
Pink spongy rollers and pin curls
My Dad tried. He tried to keep me clean, dressed and my hair looking presentable. There’s evidence of this through photographs with my bangs trimmed unevenly, a homemade dress from my Grandma and a fake smile on my face.
The truth is, I looked motherless.
I felt motherless.
And I knew everyone could tell. I hated that.
Enter, my first bout of shame.
As a female child without a mother, I felt such shame that actually I could feel it throughout my body. I was ashamed. Ashamed of how I looked, how we lived and who I was. It makes no sense to me now, as an adult. Why should I have been ashamed? I did nothing wrong. But as a small child with so many fears and doubts about everything, I felt shame. I had no one who stepped in to help me grieve or question me as to what I was thinking or feeling. We were all in this together….alone.
It’s hard to explain. As Rosie O’Donnell said once, “it’s the dead mothers club. You’re initiated, you get the tattoo and it’s not going away.” And sadly I might add… You are a lifetime member.
I don’t want to end this story on such a sad note, for you see, that is not totally who I am.
Oh, I still have the fear and the overshadowing feeling that everyone else knows the secrets to life, except me.
But, through the years, I believe my God and my mother have sent me guardian angels to light my way. I’ve had a grandmother, my best friends’ mother, a favorite aunt, even sometimes a loving stranger who stepped in with a kind word or encouraging hug. I’ve been blessed with daughters of my own and the best girlfriends in the world.
I have a posse of women who nurture me and love me and help me to know I am enough. And finally now, at 63 years old, I am able to look up into the heavens and not question why, but with a smile in my heart, I am grateful for this life and all I have been given, all I have learned.
Sometimes, my little grandson will look up at me, eyes searching for mine, and smile and kiss my hand. I just melt inside and wish my mother could see him.
I think she does.