Today is (was?) my mother’s birthday. She passed away back in 2000, after having a series of strokes, but seldom a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Sometimes it’s a memory of a conversation we had, or a place we visited, or a question that I would like to ask her. Each time I write a blog post, I wish I could rely on her excellent writing and editing skills to proofread my words before I hit “publish.”
My mother and I were close, but we weren’t best friends. I depended on her for love, emotional support, good advice (even if I didn’t take it all the time), and help with my homework. She taught me to work hard, revere nature, nurture a positive outlook, and not to take myself too seriously. We didn’t share all of our secrets or spend hours talking on the phone. I loved her very much and I know she loved me but our roles were fairly well defined.
Now that she is gone, I am often struck by how little I know about her life before I was born. I have a lot of tangible memories of my mother: many of her favorite recipes, magazine articles she wrote, and some beloved tchotchkes. I also have a lot of photos of her; what I don’t have is the comfort that I really knew the women in those photos. I love hearing stories from relatives who grew up with her and I treasure the diaries that both she and my father kept in their twenties and thirties. But, looking back, I wish I had asked her more questions about her childhood, her teenage years, and when she was a young woman – before and after she met my father.
I know that her mother died just days after my mother was born, but I don’t know how the loss might have shaped her as she grew up. I know where and how my parents met, but I don’t know what she thought about when they decided to get married after just three months of knowing each other – and just a few weeks before my father was shipped off to Europe for his Army service during WWII.
I think many of today’s mother/daughter relationships are different. Many of my friends who have kids talk about how close they are and they seem to be more open with them about their past. Some mothers and daughters share clothes and Facebook updates. A few discuss their sexual histories and past drug use. One friend even shares Botox appointments with her adult daughter.
If I had a daughter, I’m not sure where along the closeness spectrum we would sit, but I’d like to think it would be somewhere in the middle. I understand the desire to be “best friends,” but I also appreciate the need to maintain a certain amount of separation. Although I wish I had asked more about my mother’s past, I appreciate that she had pieces of her life that she wanted to keep private. Just as her past shaped her, mine has shaped me, and my relationship with my mother is one of the parts of who I am that I most cherish.
Although I don’t remember many of my dreams, every once in a while I have a vivid one about my mother. It is usually the same: we are sitting together on the sofa in my parents’ living room chatting about this and that and enjoying each other’s company. Everything seems completely normal when suddenly I realize it is just a dream. When that happens, I reach over and hug her tightly to me, knowing she won’t be there when I wake up.
I hope I have that dream again tonight.
19 thoughts on “The girl I never knew”
This is so touching. My mother and I weren’t best friends either. Our interests and personalities were very different. But you don’t need to be friends with your parents to love them with all your heart anyway.
Although we didn’t share too many secrets, I knew that she was always there for me. We became much better friends as I got older and stopped thinking that I knew everything.
This is very beautiful and so well written. I too have occasional dreams about my parents, usually my dad. I nearly always enjoy them.
Thank you! I’m glad that you enjoy those “visits” too. They really are special and don’t happen nearly enough.
I don’t know a lot about my mother’s childhood except that it was financially hard. Her father died when she was 9 and her mother had to raise 9 kids by herself (no social security or welfare back then). Food was rationed with the older boys who worked getting the bigger portions. I too wish I knew more real stuff about her life before me.
I guess when they are around you figure you have all the time in the world to ask questions. If I had been smarter at the time, I would have written down what I did know. I heard some stories but I didn’t think to dive down deeper.
I think your relationship with your mother was wonderful. I sorry you did not get to know her mother. All the best, BTG
It really was a great relationship. Fortunately, she came from a large family in St. Louis so I’m lucky to have those ties to her (and my grandmother).
Aarggh…way to bring on the tears! I think our relationships with our mothers are mosaic; each has a different set of shapes, forms, colors, but the same overall framework. There are many days when I think I am going home to her; it still always catches me by surprise when I realize I won’t be. I love that picture of her at her typewriter, and I always remember how welcome she made me feel when I was at your house.
I love that picture too! I even have those cowboy boots she is wearing in the photo. Both our mothers were very special and we were lucky to have had them as long as we did.
I liked your story so much. Your relationship with your Mother was wonderful. You loved her and she loved you. Simple and sweet.
I wish I had known her.
Loved seeing the pictures.
I wish you had known her too! She was always so happy (and probably relieved) to know that I had such wonderful friends.
Such similar mom stories we share, Janis! Aren’t mother-daughter relationships so tricky? I have two daughters and two very different relationships with each daughter. My mom’s OCD and mildly narcissistic personality made it hard for me to be around her as we both grew older and 500 miles apart. Knowing that she is in palliative hospice now and the end is inevitable makes me incredibly sad. Always complicated, you shared this very well. I wish you lot’s of dreams of your mom, Janis! xoxo
Despite the difficulties in your relationship, it must be hard to be far away from your mother at this time. Although it was hard to see my mother failing, I also felt privileged to be able to assist her while she was home, then advocate for her when she was in the hospital. I think I would have felt frustrated and helpless if I hadn’t lived close by. I know your mom is being made to feel as comfortable as possible – hospice does an incredible job.
Thanks, Janis! You were fortunate to be able to help your mom. I am fortunate that my SD family did all that work. I’m thankful for my sis-in-law who works in the medical field and knows about senior advocacy. My husband’s mom is out of state now in asst living. I was happy to give them advice on some of this. My fear is I knowing my mom’s days are few and when I can see her again. I really did like this post and think it is very important that these messages get out!
Hi Janis! I so agree that one of the big things I miss about my mom now that she is gone is that I didn’t ask her more about her early life and things that were important to her. Then as she got older, had several strokes AND dementia it was difficult to talk to her at all. Still, I do wish I’d tried harder and put aside my anger at her for not taking better care of herself (she smoked until the very end and drank pretty heavily.) If I could recommend anything to women with mothers who are still alive it would be to get them talking about their lives and what really mattered to them in the end. ~Kathy
I think that was ultimately the message of my post: if you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents in your life, capture those memories NOW! I kept thinking that I should get everything I did know written down, and ask good questions about what was missing in the narrative, but too often day-to-day life gets in the way.
This is beautiful! I lost my mother first to dementia and then to death and I now wish I had asked more questions and paid more attention to her stories. I didn’t fully appreciate that all that history would also be gone with my mother’s passing.
As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” She was talking about paving paradise (so true) but she could have been referring to anything of great value.
I’m sorry about your mom. You are so right about two losses: dementia, then death. My father had dementia and it was hard to see him slowly slipping away.
Comments are closed.