Today (at 10:36a.m.) marks six years since my mother’s death.
Every year from March 2 through March 5 I feel…icky: heavy and tired and achy and blah. I tend not to look at the dates on my calendar terribly much and sometimes I’ve been too busy to notice that February became March. Some years I have wondered why I feel so bad. Then I look at the calendar and it clicks: ah…The Anniversary.
I’ve written before about how I tend to view March 5. It’s not a bad day for me. Yes, it’s the exact day that she died, but I carry that day with me always so, really, every day is March 5 for me.
March 5 is the mile marker of another year down, another year of grief growth and backslides and new experiences that trigger acute episodes of grief and old experiences that I thought weren’t triggers but are that year…and so it goes.
Instead of holding onto March 5 as The Day My Mother Died, I use it as a measure of time and a point of annual reflection. I tend to be slower this week regardless of what I want to do. I think my body has some muscle memory of the four days (one day of surgery, two days of hopelessly hoping for recovery, and then the day of death) so even if I wanted to ignore this time of year, I don’t think my physiology would allow it.
What have I reflected on at the close of this sixth year?
Being a motherless mother really sucks.
My daughter is the best gift I could have been given. The absolute best. But she is also a reminder that there is a grandmother who never got to be a grandmother. Last year at this time, my daughter was five months old and I had just suffered through my first Christmas as a motherless mother. It was awful. Now my daughter is almost a year and a half, and she understands more. She knows about my mother, her babi*. I have a picture of my mother on my bureau, and at nap and bedtimes, my wee girl wants to hold the photo. She points at the picture as I hold her near the bureau, says “Baba,” then sticks the frame between the two of us in a weird Oreo-type hug. I love it, but it breaks my heart.
It just seems so unfair that a person can have a name and be loved by someone who never met them…and not be here.
This year, I’ve had to deal with the grief that come with being a motherless mother. I yearn for a conversation with my mother about being a mother. I have so many more questions now than I ever had before about my infancy and childhood. I want to know more about it, about my quirks, about my tantrums, about her experience as a mother, about everything. I ask my father and he shares what he remembers, and that helps, but it’s not the same. Not even close.
I tell my daughter that she gets to see babi in her dreams and share her day’s adventures. I tell her that babi will have all the hugs and kisses for her that she could want. I ask my daughter to tell babi that I miss her. I tell my daughter to ask babi to visit my dreams. She hasn’t come recently. I like to think it’s because she’s too busy being part of my daughter’s dreams. I can wait.
I think about how my mother and my daughter would interact if my mother were still alive. At my girl’s first birthday, I thought of what a big deal my mother would have made. It’s not so much the special occasions that I wish we had together; I do miss them because I know my mother would have made them even more special for her. It’s the quiet moments that I wish they had together. I think about the lazy afternoons we might have had at the house with my mother reading to her and doing puzzles with her. I think of how my mother would love my daughter’s dancing and her general exuberance for life. I think of them just enjoying each other.
I’ve thought a lot about myself as a daughter this year, and hope I was good enough. I could have been better. I think about everything my mother put up with and the love she still showed me. I understand her side of (almost) everything now; especially since my mother had lost both of her parents by the time she was twenty-one. I understand that there were so many moments colored by being a motherless mother herself, moments that I couldn’t possible have understood until now. And it feels too late.
Beyond the wishes I have for more time with my mother, I feel immensely grateful. I had a really great mother: a pain-in-the-ass of a mother, a ridiculously fun and funny mother, a sensitive mother, an insightful mother, a phenomenally supportive mother, a tough mother, an openminded mother, a mother who listened deeply. A mother who didn’t get enough credit from me for how fantastic she was as a mother. She would have been an amazing grandmother. Absolutely amazing.
I try my best to live out her example, to be the silly, ridiculous, compassionate, cuddly, and loving mother for my toddler. And I’ll keep trying as she gets older. My daughter is nutty and joyous and tender and fiercely independent; I give credit to my mother for all of that, for showing me how to instill those things for my child.
This is why grief is lifelong and unresolvable: because life keeps happening; you have new experiences that you desperately want to share with your lost loved one. Dealing with grief fall-out from situations you never anticipated or experienced before is a constant endeavor of self-care management. This is why “getting over” grief is a bullshit endeavor…you just can’t.
I still cry at random times, triggered by small, everyday things. I still search for my mother around every corner. I hope to catch her standing over my daughter’s crib when I check on her at night. I still have the urge to call her. I forget, for a split second, that she’s gone and think “Oh, I can’t wait to show mom that picture!” I still need hugs. I still need advice. I still need to hear her laugh…
I still…I still…I still…
I still feel so incredibly lucky for having had my mother.
This is six years of living in my grief.
*When she was alive, my mother and I often talked about what she wanted to be called as a grandmother. She hated “grandma.” I asked what the Polish was for grandmother (she was of Polish descent) and she said “babcia” (bap-cha), but she didn’t like that either. I suggested “babi,” which sounded sweet to me. She loved it.