It took about nine years before this holiday didn’t make me fight back tears or run to the bathroom to vomit. I remember seeing all the girls at lunch dressed up in matching mother-daughter dresses or on their way to a special outing. Honestly, it disgusted me–I have to admit. Why did they get to experience all that love and admiration from their moms and I didn’t? I was left with a gaping hole in my heart, one that I thought would never quite be whole again. When would that not hurt?
Maybe I could accept it more if I had lost my mother in the traditional sense–she had passed away. But no, mine had simply been carried away, far away, by the demons of her past- from her mental illness. She tried to fight them off, she tried to love and be the best in public, to appear “normal” but she never really could pull that off. Until one day I’d started in high school, woke up, and she was gone. No address, no way of knowing. She’d threatened to leave, to not come back. We assumed it was just another manic illness episode. But no, it really happened. And after that day, I never saw her again.
The next day I went to school, holding back the sobs that so desperately wanted to come out, and played my clarinet in first period next to my best friends, Katie and Sara. They could tell something was wrong, but didn’t push. I somehow made it through that day and the next 3,285 days following, to today. I went home a few months later, pulled her old comforter over my head, smelling the perfume that still lingered from her, and softly cried and mourned her loss. I choked down my tears and I asked myself, why she didn’t want my sister and me? Why she couldn’t love us? Why she couldn’t have stayed and gotten better? But she just couldn’t. She loved us and did what she could to the extent that she was able, and I simply couldn’t ask for anything more.
See a lot of us, who have lost their mother to illness in some way or in a traditional loss, we always seem to feel a little out of place in certain circumstances. And our friend’s mothers try to help, try to welcome us into their fold, but it’ll never quite be the same. Even a mother penguin only recognizes the sound of her own chick. She’ll reject the others because she knows the sound of her chirp. Your mother, she will never love another quite like she loves you. The way she gingerly folds your hair behind your ear, or brags to others about your accomplishments, no matter the size, or the way she tells people about the day you were born. That is so unique, so one of a kind, and she’ll only feel that way about you. My friend’s mothers tried their best to welcome me in, and for their kindness and love, I’m forever grateful. They tried to help make me feel like one of their own, but that love is custom made and it simply can’t be the same. So if you are out there, and your mother is around and can love you with that capacity, don’t fight it, be annoyed–it’s a gift that can easily be gone tomorrow.
I thought about hope, and what I can offer, what got me to a point of acceptance and health. I know a lot of people say, you’re stronger for the tragedies in life and I’d disagree. I didn’t feel stronger over time. But with distance and perspective, I became whole.
My mother was a fantastic cook. She could make a dinner party come alive. Her hugs were one of a kind just like her meatballs. Her intelligence was superior and her paintings, beautiful. I have learned to somehow love the parts of mom that were good, and to focus on her memory in that way.
I don’t know where she went that day, nine years ago. I don’t know where she lives, what she’s doing. There never was a sense of closure. People asked me if I knew, and that just made me angrier.
But try to not remember the illness, the rejection and pain. And over time, my healing came. Somehow in the midst of that pain, God surprises you with a collection of people that add so much color and vibrancy to your life–that somehow you become more of yourself again, more whole. They can never replace, but with each smile, relationship, and caring moment, they bring a little bit of healing and restoration back into your life. You begin to see yourself as a ship in the ocean that slowly moves away from a wreck and closer to a divine sunset.
So to the daughters who have experienced loss, I understand–wholeheartedly, I get it. But it will get better, you will breathe again and it will be okay. And if you feel angry toward her, remember, no matter what mistakes she’s made–she gave you life. And that is a gift that is superior to any pain she’s caused you. You are her gift to the world, the best part of her. To those that have their mother, love her for everything she is and isn’t, treasure her. Realize that the bond and the way she looks at you, it’s one of a kind, and not replaceable. Because one day you might wake up–and find just how much you miss her.