Mother’s Day is a bittersweet social religion that I’ve never really fully grasped. In my opinion, it’s a path full of potholes because motherhood is never all sunshine and light. Yes, it’s lovely to be recognised for being an awesome care giver and an integral part of the family unit but it’s bathed in established criteria for what a mother is and does and should be. There are so many ways to be a ‘mother’ and while I do enjoy the social niceties of being a traditional Mum, I can’t help but feel for those that want to be mother but can’t (which was very nearly me), those that no longer have their mother at their side (which is me) and for those that fall into a different category altogether like two-Dad families where a day like today can be cause for a quiet retrospective instead of the burst of cheap carnations our world throws up.
So, I’m thinking about all of those things as I’m brought tea and toast in bed and swathed in the love of my small family. And I remembered this. Something I wrote a few years ago when I was a new mother thinking about my own mother.
January 19, 2014: My Mother’s Hands
When I was a young child a friend was sleeping over at my place. She complained of a headache during the night and my mother came to comfort her. From my bed I watched her place a hand on my friend’s forehead and gently soothe her back to sleep. In the morning when my friend was feeling better she told me that my mother’s hands had taken her headache away. “Your mum has lovely hands,” she said.
She was right. My mother’s hands were gentle when they needed to be, firm when it mattered and always there to catch me (or at least help me land gently!)
My mother died 10 years ago.
It feels like just yesterday and yet it was a lifetime ago. She fought a terrific battle with cancer (like so many do) and finally succumbed to it in August 2003, five years before I met my husband and well before we created our daughter, and her granddaughter, in October 2013.
I could so easily talk about her death and the pain that we all endured with her but it’s her life, her familial legacy that actually brings me solace when I’m sad about not having her around at this time in my life.
My husband and I met on mother’s day, which is ironic as he too lost his mother to cancer in 1997. So not only do I not have a mother or mother-in-law to confer with, my daughter won’t know grandmothers either. At times this makes me incredibly sad. Particularly in the early days of my pregnancy and in recent months as I nurse my perfect newborn daughter.
With all those helpful hormones running riot inside me I have found myself crying more for my mother since the birth of my baby than during the time my mother actually died (I think I was too busy being angry with the world that she was dying!).
But amidst all the tears and longing ache for my mother something wonderful has happened. I’ve realised just how much my mother has left for my daughter and me.
Physically, I’m genetically more like my father but emotionally; I am a lot like my mother. So much so, that when she was alive we fought frequently – both frustrating each other in equal measure with our determinedness and pragmatic approach to life.
My mother taught me to be practical. This has seeded a common sense and a calm approach to newborn baby conundrums, which I’m certain, has helped me manage being a new mother at 41.
I find that my mother’s tenderness in times of emotional upset has also taken root in me. She used to call my sister and I ‘darling heart’, as a term of endearment. Not long after my daughter was born I found myself reaching for the right words to soothe her and, without consciously being aware of it, began calling her ‘darling heart’. It wasn’t until my husband mentioned how lovely the term sounded that I had to think about its origin.
There are so many of my mannerisms and life skills that originated during the 31 years of my life that I had my mother here beside me that I don’t truly feel like a motherless mother. Sure, she may not be at the end of the phone or actually here to help me negotiate this whole new world of my new baby but I hear her words of wisdom whispering in my ear from time to time. She tells me to stay calm and listen to my baby. I see her pause to reflect on the wonderment that is the new life I have created. It makes me slow down and reflect myself.
The thought of how she would interact and love her granddaughter makes me smile. I miss her everyday…especially now, but it’s true what they say; loved ones don’t ever really leave you. They’re always beside you. In the lessons you learned from them, the stories they shared with you and the memories you keep. I’m reminded of Carol Mirkel’s poem, After Glow:
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an after glow of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways.
Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun.
Of happy memories that I leave, when life is done.
These hands that my mother gave me will raise my daughter.As I reach to caress my baby I catch a glimpse of my hands. The characteristics of my hands are just like my mothers, right down to the fingernails.
They are the same hands that I see in my baby as she discovers the world around her.
And in her hands the life of the grandmother she’ll never know will always be treasured. In her after glow.