A motherless mother

Seventeen days before my son turned 2, my mom died.

She, a single mom. Me, an only child. I felt orphaned. And the prospect of facing motherhood without her still hurts. 

Three years later, my son, now 5, still asks about his Mimi. My daughter, 18 months, will never know her. 

I’m 35. Married with kids. I own a house, two cars and more stuff than I’d like. 

By all accounts, I’m a grown woman. 

But even now, I long for the warmth of the bed we shared. To be curled beside her, soothed by the circular stroke of her hand on my back, slipping to sleep beneath the comfort of her words, “Goodnight, my sweet girl. I’ll see you in the morning.” 

While the shock of her death has waned, I’m still startled by grief’s intrusion into motherhood. 

I never expected to feel paralyzed by my mother-in-law’s reminiscing on my husband’s childhood. I never expected her reflections on our children’s likeness to him, or even herself, would catch me breathless.

Of course, I don’t fault her. My kids deserve those memories.

But at once my childhood feels lost. Or stolen. There’s nobody here to remember it with me. To bridge my past with my children’s present. And I struggle to hold my heart still when it wants to leap from my chest.

As my kids propel into childhood, I ache with questions I never thought to ask.

When did I stop believing in Santa? Did she worry about television? When was my first nightmare? How did she pick a daycare? Did I ever suck my thumb? Why did she let me quit soccer? Or piano? How did she decide who would take care of me if she died? 

I’ll never know. And I’m heavy with questions to come.

But between the threads of grief are moments of intense clarity and forgiveness. In motherhood, I know my mother more than ever before. 

Dinnertime, from the time I could sit up until I left for good, was loaded TV trays pulled over our legs in the living room. Me, on the couch. She, in her chair. From Full House to Married with Children to Law and Order to CSI: Miami. Every night. The two of us. Together.

In those hours, soaked in the television’s glow, I’d catch her staring at me.

Wha-a-a-t!” I’d say.

“Nothing,” she’d say, “just looking at you.”

Dinnertime looks different now, but I often find myself staring at my kids. Captivated by their beauty. Their individuality. The miracle of it all. And I know the flutter in her chest. I know the depth of her love for me. 

Remembering has given me grace, too.

When I slip up, when I yell, when I feel so impossibly human, I remember the few times her patience cracked. When her eyes grew wide and words shot from her mouth nearly knocking me down.

Then her recovery, her apology, her warm embrace. 

I never felt unloved. 

My kids may never know her in the way I wish they could. But they will know her in the way I love them. 

They will know her in the way I cradle their groggy faces first thing in the morning. In the way I let them talk into the wee hours of the night, sacrificing my sleep so they always feel heard. 

They will know her in the slow hours of the evening when I curl beside them, gently rubbing their backs as they settle into sleep beneath the whisper of my voice, “Goodnight, my love. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Amanda Webster lives in Roseville with her husband and two kids. She is currently working on a book about creativity and childhood. Learn more at theworkofchildhood.com.