I remember distinctly the day I told my first lie. I was in first grade and Miss Hooper had let my friend and me go down the hall to get a drink at the water fountain. We held hands and our ponytails swung back and forth as we made our way down the hall. We were quietly chatting and my friend suddenly turned to me and said, “You always talk about your Daddy; don’t you have a mother?”
I will never forget that moment. I absolutely froze inside and panicked. I blurted out, “Of course, I do!” and quickly changed the subject. You see, I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be that girl without a mother. I was living a double life already….painfully motherless in most of my life and in denial with made-up stories in the other.
I knew deep in my soul that someday I would have to tell the world, my little world, the truth. My mother was gone and she wasn’t coming back.
No, I didn’t tell my friend the truth that day and it would be years before I could actually say the words out loud. But something changed within me that day and I was never the same.
After my mother died, my Dad needed help raising my brother and I. It was the 1950’s and we did not use the term “Nanny”. My Dad hired Mrs. Fish as our housekeeper.
Mrs. Fish, or ‘Fishie’ as we called her, lived with us during the week and was off on weekends. She cooked, cleaned, washed, got us off to school and was there when we got home. She was there when I lost a tooth, learned to ride a bike and sold Girl Scout cookies. She cared for us and we grew to depend on and care for her.
This picture was taken soon after Fishie came to live with us. I am struck by the timidness and uncertainty I felt…my shyness still palatable. But, I see something else, something special. This woman, who came to work for an overwrought widower with two small children, put her hand over my heart. This simple gesture said so much. It was a promise that made me feel safe and cared for. It was an outward sign of a caring soul.
Fishie lived with us for six years. Although we lost touch through the years and she has long since passed away, I would very much wish for her to feel my gratitude. I want her to know how much I appreciated her protection…her hand over my heart. In her simple and kind ways she guided me and guarded me and for that, I will always be grateful.
I was four years old when my mother died, and because she too was so young, I was told she went to heaven to be an Angel. My Dad made her into a perfect person right away. I never heard him speak of any flaws or indiscretions. She was forever an Angel.
It’s hard growing up with an Angel as your role model. I was always judged by what my mother would have said, done and been. Forever perfect, she was portrayed.
Through the years I’ve heard plenty of testimonies from friends who knew her well. They almost all say the same thing…she was beautiful, smart, funny and very kind. Not one hint to a mistake, bad temper or habit that needed to break. Even her friends from high school wrote beautiful things about her in her yearbook. Oh, how I have judged myself harshly in comparison of her light.
My Auntie Sue understood all of this. She would try to tell me stories about my mother and share adventures the two of them had shared. She would always tell me, “Your mother had her ways,” but, she never got around to telling me what “her ways” were. Maybe Auntie Sue was giving me a break, a glimmer of hope, that it is ok to be human.
I’ve long since accepted the fact that I am truly human, and that probably my mother was too. No one will mistake me for a ‘forever angel’ when I am gone….and that’s perfectly alright with me.
“Why are you writing about this after all these years?” “Isn’t it time to let it go and move on with your life?” These are the thoughts and questions that others ask when “it” hasn’t happened to them. Don’t worry for me, that I am mired in depression just because I speak of unspeakable things. I’m okay…truly.
I may write of memories faded or worse, never made. I may allude to sad times or lonely situations, but only because it was my reality, as bleak as it may seem. I’m not lonely now or sad or swimming in negativity. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m okay…really.
I don’t have a monopoly on losing a parent at an early age. There are many of us who faced childhood with a hole in our hearts and for many different reasons. We may still need to talk about it. Some may need to hear about it, just to know they will heal. We’re okay…seriously.
However, just because you didn’t experience it doesn’t make it any less real. Just because such honesty makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean our honesty should not be expressed. No one makes it out of this world alive. No one escapes their time on earth without some type of pain or sadness. No one.
Into every life a little rain must fall; sometimes it’s a tsunami and sometimes it’s a steady, slow soak. We can become okay, even joyful. We can feel heart-overflowing gratitude. There’s always a rainbow somewhere. Don’t worry about me….I’m okay….really.
I’ve never known or remember experiencing a holiday with my mother. I’ve never stood next to her in the kitchen, peeling potatoes or making a pie.
I’ve never sat next to her at a Thanksgiving dinner or sat on the floor going through albums of photographs.
I’ve never held her hand as we bowed our heads in prayer.
Too many “I’ve never”, not enough memories.
I’ve read before, that motherless daughters often feel as if they will die at the same age their mothers were when they passed away. For me, that age was 33.
At a time in my life when I should have been coming into my own, I was anything but… I never could visualize myself as a mother or even as I might be when “I grew up.” I was frozen in limbo yet desperately wanting to know exactly when I would die during my 33rd year, for I knew it would happen. Would it be on my birthday? Would it happen in the middle of the year or cruelly on the day before I turned thirty-four? Anxiously I approached that year and every day until it was over. I lived in a constant state of uncertainty.
During my 33rd year I got divorced, changed careers, gave up sleeping and lost ten pounds. Sadly, and now with compassion, I look back at my perplexing choices and addled behavior and wonder how I made it through. I must forgive myself for not being totally present for my children, knowing now, that I was doing the best I could. I must forgive myself for not being present for me. My 33rd year was brutal and frightening and even now, brings me to tears.
I have lived 30 years past my mother’s age at the time of her death. I slowly and methodically pulled out of that 33rd year and must say I’m finally growing into my own. I am not without scars and memories of that time, but the intensity has lessened.
I truly am grateful for my extra years. I think God knew I would need an extension to get it all together, in fact, I’m still getting it all together. In the end, isn’t that what life’s all about?
I haven’t always known my mother’s birth date. I’m sure my daddy thought about it as every September rolled around and she was not here to celebrate, but he rarely spoke of it.
About twenty years ago, Auntie Sue began calling me on my mother’s birthday, September 28. She would call while I was getting ready for work, sometimes at 6:30 a.m. “Hi honey,” she would say. “I’m still sittin ugly, but I wanted to remember your mother on her special day.” Then she would tell me a quick little story about her or just tell me something about her personality. Most of the time we would laugh while she was telling her story, but we both knew our tears would flow as soon as we hung up.
As I’m prone to do, I imagine that I would have been a wonderful daughter. I would have called, sent gifts and baked a cake. I could imagine her eyes lighting up and us hugging as we both said, “I love you!”.
The truth is probably somewhere between my imagination and reality. I might have been busy with my own life and children and only managed a phone call or card purchased hurriedly to make it on time. I’ll never know how it might have been.
But today, I am wishing my mother a Happy Birthday. Today, I am remembering a story Auntie Sue might have called to tell me. I’m missing these two special ladies, but I’m happy they are together and celebrating within the Pearly Gates. Who knows….they may be eating some heavenly delicious cake! I hope so.
Happy Birthday Mom!