The Club: Motherless Daughters

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In memory of my mother, who died three years ago today.

I am in The Club.  Against all reason, I just never imagined myself a member.  If you are not in it yet, you will be:  The Club of Motherless Daughters.

A few weeks after Mom died, a casual acquaintance, upon learning of my membership, made deep eye contact and 55said, “I am so sorry you lost your mother.  I lost mine last year.”  She grabbed my hand and held it with heavy sadness.  There’s no secret handshake, but there are secrets.  Secrets that only motherless daughters know.

That we walk through department stores and every item of clothing seems to be in her favorite color (turquoise) and that china and bedspreads, sweatshirts and jewelry are embellished with an iconic image that your mother loved (butterflies).  That suddenly your mother’s words seem very wise and you find yourself quoting her: “As my mother used to say . . .” (‘a job worth doing is a job worth doing well.’) That you want to call her and ask her if you bake the chicken casserole with the foil on.  And you wish you had asked her the address of the house where you were born, and what it was like the day she brought you to your first home.

Scan 200There are mysteries you were sure you’d solve before she died:  How she could drink Slimfast every single day for lunch.  How she could have so many friends, but never confided in them.  What gave her the strength to remain sober for the last 23 years of her life.  How she could be so brave and stoic when she knew she was dying.

And there was all that unfinished business between you:  The times you hurt each other’s feelings.  The secrets you kept from each other.  The wall between you that you built together.

New members like me are still chewing on what might have been:  What if she turned off the TV when you visited during her final illness? What if she had poured her heart out before she died.

But as time goes on, you accept that she rarely complimented you or said she loved you because you realize (and you 213-47-Family Pictures-404are ashamed when you do) that it was right there in front of your face:  in the hundreds of pearls she sewed on your prom dress; in the yellow roses she sent you on your anniversary; in the curtains she made for your office—different ones for each season; in the sweater sets she bought you every Christmas.

At the funeral, most people tell you how much she talked about you, how proud she was.  They know all about your daughters and husband, your awards and your trips.

And you begin to accept that she was, after all, a person with baggage and limitations, pride and privacy, loving the way that she could, the way that she knew how.  Just like you.

And then comes the regret, the wicked stepsister of grief.  And you wish you had told her more often that you loved her.  That you had praised her more for her courage, intellect, talents, and accomplishments.

That you knew about her friends, the hundreds of friends who sent cards and made casseroles and came to your funeral.  That you hadn’t said, in that condescending way generations of daughters have, “Mother!” when she darned socks, or drove a mile out of her way to avoid making a left turn.  That you hadn’t told your friends that she drove you crazy.

056-Childhood 2 172That you had cut her a little slack, just like you wish your own children would, after all.  That you had just considered how much she wanted your approval, just like you crave a thumbs up from your own kids now and again.

And eventually, you hope, you will be kind to yourself and remember the ways you did give to your mother.  How you gave her a surprise birthday party when she turned 70 (not so very much older than you are now) at Grand Finale.  How you gave her a huge birthday party for her 80th and decorated the cake and the tables with huge butterflies.  How you were always there for her through her rehab, heart attack, cancer, and cancer again  That you had the courage in the final days to say what she meant to you.  How you were finally able to sustain a two arm hug for a few seconds at the end, when her body felt as fragile as a bird’s.

The day after my mother died, in the half light and half sleep of a midnight trip to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and saw, instead of my face, my mother’s, her white permed hair, rheumy eyes, red lipstick, black eyebrows.  I was terrified, yet mesmerized, by the vision.  Over the years I have returned to this experience and tried to make sense of it, and the simplest analysis is, I will become my mother. Maybe it meant that she would always be with me, or that I would never forget her.  All of these conclusions are, in fact, true.

Today as I write about this eerie apparition, a different perspective occurs to me. Perhaps my mother was looking at me, and she saw my reflection. A daughter with her voice, her brown eyes, a “Buck chin” that is sagging.  I hope she was pleased with what she saw, that she could see that I had learned so much from her:  thriftiness, loyalty, industriousness, curiosity, devotion to family.

All members of The Club grieve for their mothers, not in the same way and not for the same reasons, but they all grieve.

Some grieve for what they lost, some grieve for what they wish they had, but all grieve for what might have been. 

As a teacher I know that even children with abusive or neglectful or absent mothers love their mothers and crave their approval.  There is something primal about your love for the person who knew you nine months longer than anyone else.

When you lose your mother, you lose your past, yes, but you lose something precious before time.  Members of this club always have “I wish” on their lips.

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Here is a humorous post about my beloved mother:   “You Found What in the Cake?  An Homage to an Indifferent Cook, My Mom.

Several dear friends have shared words about their unique grief journeys.  I appreciate their generosity and insight.

My mom passed away on January 25, 2006 – ten years ago this month.  Oh how I regret not asking her for her lemon meringue pie recipe!  It was the best I’ve ever had, the meringue was always perfect and I’ll never forget it.  But, mostly I regret that I didn’t thank her for being my mom. She was just so good at that. ~  Karen Nichols
I wish my mother hugged me and told me she loved me in words.  I would like to know if she was happy being married to my dad. I’m surprised how much I miss our telephone calls.  ~ Cathy Cook
What I remember was that the moment my mother died, the thought flashed through my mind, “I’m an orphan now.”  My dad had died three years before.  The best, fiercest, tightest hug I ever had with my mother was when I hugged her lifeless body as the warmth drained away from her.  My sister asked whether I wanted to leave her wedding rings on or take them off.  I said, “Take them off.”  Mom’s rings were a part of her that we could preserve and keep with us.  So she did.  She then turned to me, extending the rings, and said, “Here, Mom wanted you to have these.”  I burst into tears.  What a wonderful gift.  I’ve worn them ever since.  I miss my mother’s hands and her voice the most.  I will never hear her say my name again, and no one can say it like she did.  No one loves me like she did.  ~ Name withheld by request
When my mother died and the pastor of her church asked specific questions about her for the eulogy. she wanted to know what we appreciated most about our mother.  All three of us (my brother and sister and I) said the same thing.  The pastor could not believe our answer, simply because it seems so impossible.  My mother never criticized us.  Never.  Neither did my dad.  She was the ultimate cheerleader.  I miss her so much, but I feel her cheering me on all the time.  It gives me confidence daily!  ~ Teri Foltz
I miss my mother’s daily (or2-3 times a day) phone calls.  Every time I come up our stairs into the kitchen, my eyes automatically go to the phone to see if the light is blinking letting me know she called.  Mom passed away three years ago next month.  I miss having her to call “Mama.”  I’ve started signing cards to my youngest daughter “Mama.” I miss the comfort of having her worry about me when I’m sick.  I’m scared to be sick without her.  ~ Jan Anderson
My Mom died after a long struggle with dementia.  Throughout her illness, I found myself grieving her loss of memory, her bouts of anger, her lost recognition of my kids and my siblings, her inability to answer my questions.  I expected to grieve even harder when she finally died.  But I did not.  Yes, I was sad; yes I missed her very much.   But I think that my grief was minimized after her death because I had cried so hard and felt such sorrow before she passed. As I witnessed her decline, I felt I was losing my Mom in tiny little fragments.  After her death, what more did I have to grieve?  ~ Kathleen Ernst
I had not seen Mom for a few weeks.  I had no idea she was dying.  Then, the stabbing phone call from her caregiver, telling me she had died.  The shock and sadness and finality of it turned to anger and deep hurt.  I would have loved to cuddle with Mom one last time , to have relived the security I felt as a child when she would lie down on the bed with me at night—and go to sleep herself. ~ Linda Overholt
As I reflect on my mother and the life she lived, it is the brilliance of her inner light and love that I miss the most.  She was filled with a love for family, a love of God coupled with a devotion to Mary, and an unconditional love for others.  I can honestly say that I never heard her complain about anything…she always spoke with kind and encouraging words.  I am at a loss at times to find the light in my life because I do not have the gentle strength of my mother by my side to support me. ~  Susan Lawrence
I have been without my mother for 34 years now. I was just 2 weeks shy of my 38th birthday, when the phone call came that changed my life forever.. I had just spoken to my mom two nights before as I wished her a Happy 48th wedding anniversary. I lived in Cincinnati, they in Cleveland. Friday morning as I was preparing for out-of-town guests, the phone rang. It was my dad. Mom was in an accident, did not survive. If it wasn’t for my three young children that needed a mother to raise them, I’m not sure how I would have been able to put one foot in front of another on a daily basis. It took years of therapy and oceans of tears to work through my grief. It was the loss of not “my mother-my-best-friend”, but rather my mother who I was just beginning to build a real relationship with. I had never been the daughter who shared my closest and most personal thoughts with her. Instead I held back and wished she would be the one to share her secrets with me. Once I became a mother, I understood better where she was coming from and slowly, but surely, was beginning to build the relationship I had wished we could have. Now, I was left with hopelessness and despair that it would never happen. If I could have only one conversation with her it would be about anxiety and depression. I have wondered for years how she felt being a “housewife” whose weekly routine was rigid. How could she not have been depressed living, from my perspective, a horridly boring life, performing her chores week after week, month after month, year after year with hardly, if any, deviation? Maybe if we could have this conversation I could understand why I fight these demons of anxiety and depression, in spite of the fact that my life has been the polar opposite of hers. Is it something in my genes that has cursed me? Did my grandmother fight those demons as well? Will my daughter experience these same challenges in her life? Maybe she would not have held the answers to my questions, but just having the opportunity to openly share my deepest concerns and secrets with her could have made all the difference in how my life has unfolded these past 34 years. ~ Linda Trebbi
My Mom shaped my life in so many ways. I will always treasure the memory of her dignity as she navigated life’s challenges. I hope the acorn fell right beside the tree. ~  Katy Ping
Our Mom died of Alzheimers and pneumonia on May 26, 2003. As the oldest of eight, I knew her the longest. I never cried as I did over her deathbed. Even though she was confused about most other things, she ALWAYS knew her children, and shamelessly would announce her children as the accomplishment of her life. Every day, really, I think I should call her or am reminded of her words Once we were married, she NEVER critcized or made remarks to us. That in itself was a gift we try to pass on. Mom was giving. She would give us some little thing she made or came across each time we visited. At Christmas, each of her progeny would receive a home made gift. And there are scores of us. Just last Saturday, my three sisters lunched together. As always, we remembered Mom. We interpreted her struggles and how she coped through her persistent trials. There is now a tenderness, an empathy for her we may not have had when she was with us. Her lessons hold firm within us. We know they were wrapped in love. ~ Joanne McQueen

 

 

 

 

30 Comments

  1. Very nice! And I’m sure your mother would be proud of who you have become and what you are doing today:).

  2. I only skimmed first paragraph and I began to cry. I am not motherless but a great empathizer of the inevitable. I’m going to save for another day or a friend. Thx

  3. This is my favorite post so far, Sandy. So filled with tenderness and depth. “….she rarely complimented you or said she loved you and you realize (and you were ashamed when you do) that it was right there in front of your face…”
    I am not yet a member, and am dreading that day that I become one. I feel so grateful that both of us survived long enough to get past the years of bitterness and hurt (from my side) over perceived indifference to my life. We both were able to change the way we relate to one another, and now have such a nice relationship. Our mothers are an essential part of who we are.

    • It is so wonderful that you have developed such a wonderful relationship–I always tell my children, “I hope I live long enough for you to forgive me!” It’s only since joining “The Club” that I realize what a big void is left when your mother dies. Thank you for reading and responding.

  4. I will read this again and again, and likely cry every time just like I did the first time.

    • That’s why I treasure our time together and want to make sure you know me and all your questions have been answered and all the wounds are healed. Love you.

  5. Oh my. The tears! Thank you, Sandy. When I pass, I will only have motherless sons, and I wonder…will it be different for them? I never knew your mother, but thank god, I know her daughter!

    • Love you, Teri.

  6. I’m a weeping mess right now, and I am holding back the flood gates because I am at work. I lost my mom on a hot and humid night – August 26, 1992. I still remember every detail of the eventful day. I was only 27 years old and she 64. My mom became ill from kidney disease several years earlier and I am so grateful that I had the foresight at the time to realize that our time together would be short and that I needed to take what little time we had to together and create wonderful memories and heal the hurts that had come from being a sensitive child – mission was accomplished. When she passed I was at total peace – nothing left unsaid or left un-done. What I was not prepared for was the level of crushing grief that enveloped me. I grieved for my future without her. While my son and husband never met her, she continues to live in all the stores that I share with them.

    • Thank you, Patty, for reading and responding. I am so sorry you lost your mother when you were both so young. How wonderful that at your young age you had the foresight to use the finite time you had to develop a wonderful relationship. I agree: I was shocked by how hard her death hit me. For a while I was relieved because she was out of pain, but within weeks I became absolutely devastated.

  7. My mother died of colon cancer at the age of 51 in 1990. She was my best friend and the person who influenced my life the most. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I love your post and the way you express how you feel. You are a great writer and I hope you are coming to BAM in April so I can meet you! Teresa from NanaHood.com

    • I am so happy for you that your mother was your best friend. Thank you so much for reading and responding. I am afraid I don’t know what BAM is–have googled it trying to figure it out! Let me know.

  8. Loved this post Sandy. So “warmly” written! I guess I could say I envy you! I really never got to know my mother, so I have no idea what it is like to “loose” one. When my mother died, I only had memories of her.’ I am sure your two daughters will treasure this writing!!

    • Thanks, Maureen, for reading and responding. I am sorry you never got to know your mom. She sure would have been proud of the compassionate, curious, hard-working woman you grew up to be.

  9. This was a beautiful homage to mothers. I cried.

    • Thank you for contributing your words, which I really related to.

  10. Dear Sandy, Thank you for this. I joined the club forty years ago, when my mother died of bone cancer at the age of 63. I was 33 and just beginning to appreciate her and seek her friendship as an equal. So many questions have been left unanswered. I miss her. Thank God for Women Writing for (a) Change, where I was able to write Dot Wade back into existence through letters, essays and poems that still breathe today.
    Kathy Wade

    • My mother had cancer in her bones. It was so painful and why, at least for a short while, I was relieved when she died. But then the grief came . . . and never went away. I am sorry for your loss when you were both so young.

  11. Thank you so much for these words – my sisters and I talk often about our mother, Ruth.. Sharing our memories is one way to hold her close even though it’s been so many years now. This blogpost felt like a conversation my sisters and I could have….

    • So wish I had sisters. What a comfort to have these conversations with other women. Love you, Janie.

  12. Sandy, Our Mom died of Alzheimers and pneumonia on May 26, 2003. As the oldest of eight, I knew her the longest. I never cried as I did over her deathbed. Even though she was confused about most other things, she ALWAYS knew her children, and shamelessly would announce her children as the accomplishment of her life. Every day, really, I think I should call her or am reminded of her words Once we were married, she NEVER critcized or made remarks to us. That in itself was a gift we try to pass on. Mom was giving. She would give us some little thing she made or came across each time we visited. At Christmas, each of her progeny would receive a home made gift. And there are scores of us. Just last Saturday, my three sisters lunched together. As always, we remembered Mom. We interpreted her struggles and how she coped through her persistent trials. There is now a tenderness, an empathy for her we may not have had when she was with us. Her lessons hold firm within us. We know they were wrapped in love.

  13. I am almost brand new to this club since my mom left us on January 14. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece. My mom was especially human, but I loved her all the more for it. When she lived with me for six months–her house was being torn down, a new one built on its site by her son-in-law, my sister’s husband–she started to feel anxious, then depressed and homeless. Tensions mounted at our house. One night, as I left the house, my husband reported that he witnessed her “flipping me off” behind my back. I guess it should have hurt my feelings, but it just made me laugh. She was hurting, felt diminished and was living with me, her eldest, least like her daughter. I was well-aware that things had not turned out exactly as she’d hoped. I never went one day in my life feeling unloved while she was here.

    • What a wonderful story. Although there were tense times when you lived together, looking back I am sure you treasure this intimate time together. “I was well-aware that things had not turned out exactly as she’s hoped.” This really resonated with me, because I knew my mother was never really happy, and I always regretted I could not make her happy. Thank you for reading and responding. My sincerest condolences.

  14. My mom passed away 17 years ago last August. She was a poet and had been my first writing teacher. She was the biggest fan of my writing even when it wasn’t very good. We took writing classes together for a couple years and she encouraged me to keep at it. I have. As my second published novel is due to launch in April, I yearn to say, “Thanks, Mom, for believing in me. We did it!”

    • What a precious thing: writing together. I bet you knew each other in ways few mothers and daughters do. Congratulations to you and you mom for your successful writing career. You did it1

  15. A beautiful reflection. What I miss from my Mom is the feeling of unconditional love. We had our fair share of irritations and issues but no one on this Earth loved me like my Mom. Soon after she died, I also realized that what left with her were the issues and irritations. There’s a certain freedom in that.

  16. This is such a beautiful piece, a lovely tribute to your mother–and to all mothers. I plan to refer back to your words often and plan to share of part of this with my daughter with whom I hope to develop a more open and honest relationship before it is too late. I wrote about the regret I feel that I did not get to spend Mom’s final hours with her; but I do treasure the hours we spent together after my father died, when I would drive to Michigan once a month to relieve Mom’s caregiver. It was not easy to do that, especially when I still had a teenager at home and was working full time, but I will never regret those quiet, peaceful, loving weekends with her. Those were definitely the best days of our relationship as mother and daughter.

  17. That was beautiful and cried through the whole thing. I’m so glad I had the honor to have met her. She was a strong and beautiful lady inside and out. We will always think of her at Christmas when we hang the boy’s stockings that she made for them.

  18. Sandy,

    This is so intimate…Of course, my experience has been a long, drawn-out affair, tangled with wishful thinking and heartbreaking moments. I have one foot in the club, and one foot out. I share your heartbreak. Part of new my novel is about reconstructing our memories of mothers, in way we can live with ourselves….Sending you love!

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.

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