Our Mothers Map Our Lives
I have always been the crier in the family. Growing up, I cried every week when Gilligan and the castaways were stranded yet again on their tropical island. On the other hand, I have seen my mother cry on only a few occasions. The time I remember most was when my piano teacher chastised me for not practicing enough. My piano teacher’s words barely fazed me, seeing my mom cry as a result stung hard.
If you rarely see your mother cry, the few times you do are memorable. When my father died several years ago, it was after a weeklong vigil by his post-stroke bedside. During the transition, my mother, siblings, aunts, cousins and I gathered round and hunkered down. We alternately cried, fretted, planned and laughed. During the whole ordeal, while I cried almost hourly, I never saw my mother shed a tear.
This didn’t indicate an absence of love, because Mom loved Dad in a way I will envy forever. It was simply her practical way of being, combined with the relief that my father was finally free from his debilitating back pain.
About a month after his death, Mom came to Charlotte to spend Christmas with me. I wanted to create an easy place to usher in our first holiday season without Dad. But on Christmas Eve morning, I was jolted into a whole new reality when a large U.S. Postal Service truck ran a red light and t-boned me as I drove to yoga class. After being pulled from my car with the “jaws of life,” I ended up in the hospital with a severe fracture of the clavicle.
Later that day, my brother retrieved me from the hospital and drove me home. As we pulled up to the door of my condo, there stood my mother with tears in her eyes.
At that moment, I felt wrapped in her love. Because while Mom and I don’t agree on everything (she favors FOX while I have been known to watch MSNBC), the potentiality of loss created a bond between us that transcended any roles we used to play.
She stayed with me an extra week after the accident and returned for a month after my surgery. She heated my soup, refreshed the ice packs and helped me maneuver around the house with a clipped wing. We watched silly TV shows and recounted stories about Dad and our lives. She helped me heal, and in doing so, we rediscovered each other.
A Native American spiritual woman recently told me that when you heal your relationship with your mother, you create positive karma going back seven generations and going forward seven generations. Trust me, from looking in that woman’s eyes when she said it, I know it to be true.
Our mothers are more than givers of life. As writer Elizabeth Gilbert put it, they are the chroniclers of our time on this planet. They remember the year we broke our arm, the time we twirled a baton in the parade and the details of our doll show victories.
Mothers map our past like no one else can.
A few weeks ago, I had a workshop assignment, asking to list my life milestones, from birth to present. When I called Mom for help with the details, it gave me pause. I thought about my life without her someday, and felt a twinge of dread.
Without her, who will piece together the tales of my childhood when I can’t recall them? On whom will I rely to provide the narrative of my life?
Mother’s Day is upon us. If your mom is living, share something you appreciate about her that you have never said before now. And if she has passed, I suggest you do the same.
Originally published Spring 2010.