It’s another Mother’s Day.
I love being Bear’s mother. He warms my heart every day. I love celebrating all the incredible women who take on this enormous task that nurturing another human really is. But Mother’s Day is also complicated for so many of us. Some of us have lost our mothers. Some have difficult relationships. Sometimes, it’s both of these.
In the year or so before my mom passed away, she walked me around her house to show me things. “Alicia, I hope you’ll take some of these,” she’d say, gesturing to things like her tea kettles and dresses. She’d ask me, “Would you wear this when I’m gone?”
In those last three years, any time she needed me, I’d go to her (in the hospital, the nursing home, or her house), traveling back and forth from Los Angeles to Rancho Santa Fe where she lived with my Dad. Sometimes I’d go three times in a week. I couldn’t fathom then just how much all those clothes would mean to me now. And how much I wish I could show her the carload Bear and I took home, and how much I treasure these things of hers. And I’d tell her, “Of course mommy, of course I’ll take your things.”
I loved my mommy. Her smell. Her skin. Her hands and feet. She was so beautiful, every part of her.
My mother lived lightly on the earth, she planted seeds in me, she loved animals, and she taught me to never be materialistic or waste anything.
Of course, as much as I loved her, I had to work really hard to be who I am on my own. But perfect isn’t why we love people, is it.
“I hope I’ve been a good enough mother for you,” she said in those final months.
“Even if things didn’t go the way we would have liked, I know you did the best you could. And I forgive you for anything you’re worried about.” I told her lovingly, “You know what, mom, you taught me to love animals and not be wasteful, and I became an animal activist and eco-warrior. ”
And that made her really happy.
A friend of mine who lost his mom the year before I lost mine gave me some sound advice. “Be present with her in the end, just be there for the last breath.” And I was. Holding her for the final 48 hours of her life as she took her exit.
I melted into this experience of taking care of my mom during those years. It was a gift.
Bear and I eventually went through her things together. My mom worried sometimes about her things being a mess.
She must have done a deep cleaning before she died because everything was in order. I wish so much that I could tell her how beautifully she left everything and how somehow I know she worked hard to do that for me. It breaks my heart—as if she knew what I would do to take care of her after. It’s hard to explain how meaningful this was for me. If you’ve lived through it, you likely understand. Bear and I had a wonderful experience as we went through the house. He picked out things he wanted to keep, and I cried like crazy.
Some of her clothes I now wear.
Some hang in my closet.
And some I donated to the theatre because I know she would have loved that.
I wish in the last few weeks that I had been able to ask her how she felt about what was happening to her. “Are you afraid of dying? Tell me everything. How do you feel?” I was very busy protecting her, caring for her, being her advocate, and just loving her. All while managing a small child.
But, perhaps if she wanted to share that with me she would have as we discussed death a few times in those last years. But I just wish that when we both knew it was actually upon us…I would have asked her.
The reality is, that underneath the bouquets and those second-Sunday-of-May brunch reservations, many of us have these incredibly difficult relationships with our moms. Like the doilies I collected from my mother’s house, our relationship was intricate. And complicated. And it was also beautiful.
Whatever our relationship is with our mothers, we benefit when we recognize that we come from complex women with their own, often complicated, lives. They teach us by their example what to do and what not to do with our children, with relationships, and even within our own selves. Maybe their legacy was to create change through us.
Like Mother Nature, maybe order really is made out of a bit of chaos.
I still don’t know what I believe about the afterlife. But I’d like to believe my mother can hear me— still, my practical brain isn’t so sure. Either way. I want to say, “Mommy, I have all your things and I wear your necklace all the time. And Dad called. He asked if I’d take your dogs, too.”
As I reflect on the intricacy, the depth of complexity that’s in all of us, I’m embracing the lessons I’m still learning from my mother to this day, and the ones I’m learning as a mother, too.
I think about all of this all the time, and especially now, on Mother’s Day.
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