“You have always been an example of strength to your friends. I say all this to say I love you so much, and I am so proud of you.”
-email from Mom (2008)
I have 26,098 emails in my inbox. It is a result of neglect, but it has also turned out to have a silver lining. It led me back to my mom’s voice.
Emails from ten years ago are full of her words of encouragement. She was my cheerleader and biggest fan. Tears filled my eyes as I read “proud” and “thank you” over and over again. Her words were a constant stream of affirmation and gratitude. She praised my efforts as a daughter, teacher, wife, friend and mother. She inspired my best self.
The word mother can be used as a verb to mean “to treat someone with kindness and affection and try to protect that person from danger or difficulty.” Six months after her passing, the fog is beginning to lift on this new reality. I didn’t just lose the noun. I lost the verb.
Without her voice in my life, I am grasping for kindness, comfort, and protection. I am floundering my way to becoming my own mother. This process involves recognition of my abilities and limitations. It requires honesty and a hard look in the mirror. Mostly it demands courage and strength.
I know that I am capable of taking care of my children, husband, athletes, students and friends. But am I capable of mothering myself? Can I learn to offer kindness, protection and encouragement to myself?
My therapist recommended looking at pictures of myself as a young girl. She explained that when you are grieving you are returned to a childlike state. “Look at that young face. What would you tell her right now?” Lightbulb. I would mother her.
I would take that brown eyed girl onto my lap and say I was sorry that she was hurting. I would tell her it’s okay to feel sad and lonely, but there are so many people who love her and can bring some of the light she is now missing. I would echo my mom’s words of “proud” and “thank you.” I would mother with my mother’s voice.
Alzheimer’s reversed our roles in an unfair and unnatural way. For nearly eight years, I was called to mother the woman who mothered me for the previous thirty. She needed my comfort, protection and words of encouragement. And on her last day, I tucked her in for a long, final sleep while singing “Amazing Grace.”
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.
Now, I see that the matriarch is me. I will honor her memory by using the gift she passed down to me. I can spread the light. I can offer comfort, protection and openly express my gratitude just as she did. She taught me to mother everyone else. It is time to offer myself the same grace.