The girl I never knew
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.