This week, I will celebrate my son’s birthday and my own entry into motherhood four years ago. The advent of his life, so entwined with mine, has altered my heart. Through love of him, it has grown in size, and heft, a weight so full it almost hurts.
Just over a year ago, on Christmas day, I lost my mother. The tether that had bound us for the 37 years since my own birth was severed, gently, as she slipped away from this earth, her family at her side. Her last days were difficult ones – cancer is a tyrant – and I was grateful at the end that she could leave the pain behind.
On Jan. 9 this year, I lost my other mother, the mom I gained when I married my Wil. Ever greedy, cancer stole her away, too — from her husband of 41 years, her son, her daughter, her three grandchildren, from all of us who loved her. Again, the thief worked quickly, taking her shortly after we realized she was in his grip. We are left startled, adrift, wishing her with us yet knowing she is gone.
It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. The awful realization that something truly serious is wrong. The hospital visits. The hospice visits. The farewells and goodbyes, the tears and the deep breaths, the wishing that somehow, someway, this bad dream would dissipate. Following a path Wil and I traced just last year and didn’t expect to find again, if ever, for years and years. My heart – so big, so heavy – aches again with loss.
I remember Carolyn beaming as we showed her around our tiny house in Cambridge, England. The tender kisses she bestowed on Liam in Dayton the day he was born. Her pluck behind the steering wheel – the Christmas that Wil was deployed — when she drove my father-in-law, Liam and me through the final vestiges of a blizzard in New York City. She was not my mother, but she took care of me, again and again, as a mother should, with tenacity and gentleness, good will and good humor. I was lucky in a way that many are not: She was an excellent mother-in-law. She was always there when I needed her but she had mastered the trick of never getting in the way.
I mourn for my son. Two grandmothers gone and he’s not even four years old. I was well into my thirties before I lost mine; Liam attended the funeral of my father’s mother just three years ago. His family is shrinking before he fully realizes what shape it’s supposed to hold. As memories of them fade for him, he’ll only know what he’s missing through the stories we share and the pictures we show. I hope that some part of him, of his DNA, of his heart, will remember, but it saddens me that he won’t have the years of cuddles and conversations that Wil and I envisioned for him.
These deaths, sad as they are to those of us who knew these women, are not tragedies, not in the classic sense. I recognize that. My mother, 72 when she passed, had been married, happily, for 45 years, raised two children to adulthood, welcomed three much-loved grandchildren, and left behind a lifetime’s worth of creative endeavors, through sewing, knitting, crafting and music. My mother-in-law, 70, also enjoyed a long, loving, marriage, raised two children and dearly loved her three grandchildren. She had retired from a long, fruitful career in higher education and leaves a legacy of volunteer work that the good people of West Virginia will benefit from for years and years to come. My mother and Carolyn had lives that ended abruptly – and by rights should have carried on for years, even maybe decades – but I take comfort in knowing each, in her own way, accomplished much while here.
Such comfort is good, and I know that with time, it will help soften the pain. For now, though, the grief is thick; for me, certainly for others. It clings to us, muddying our days, clogging our thinking, weighing us down. There is no direction but onward, but we can’t help looking backward: Remembering. Mourning. And loving. As only we humans can do.