Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self.  And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships.  ~Victoria Secunda

Today was a hard day. Two months ago today, I sat with my mother in the darkness and listened to her labored breaths begging God to take her quickly. It isn't until most people are much older that they are faced with the reality of losing their 2nd parent and yet, on that day I became an orphan. While for some of you that may sound incredibly dramatic, those who have stood over their dead parent with a distinct feeling of a free fall, there is nothing dramatic about it. Because you don't need to be 10 to be an orphan. The only requirement is the moment your mother or father takes their last breath leaving you standing on top of a family tree, literally out on a limb. 

Just like when my brother died, I am struggling with a new family constellation. And its all too quick and too soon and too much grief to process at the end of the day. I have had many people tell me that I am a survivor. And its true. But that doesn't mean that I want to be. Or that I'm good at it. Surviving, on some level, is my truth. It has defined much of my life. Just like it defined my mother's. 

On the one year anniversary of my brother's death, I wrote a blog outlining what I had learned in the 12 months after his death. The following excerpt was the first lesson I wrote:

- I learned my mother is a much stronger woman than I ever believed. When I was 11 years old, my father died, leaving my mother widowed at 44. Having been a stay at home mother and wife to a domineering Italian businessman, my mother did not have the self esteem to believe that she could go out and start over. It was years before my mother ever got a job and the recurrent themes of a Irish Catholic housewife never really went away. I truly believed my mother could not survive the death of her own child. But she has. She has gotten out of bed and continued to live her life the best she can knowing that she has buried her son. She still laughs and keeps Ralph's memory alive through allowing all of us to celebrate who he was (warts and all). She has helped the grandchildren through losing Ralph by meeting them where they are in the process, even if it means having to read the newspaper article my 7 year old nephew wrote shortly after Ralph passed announcing his death (literally - it read "Extra....Ralph died").

 In my heart, I did not believe it was possible for my mother to survive losing my brother. But she was a survivor. I remember calling her and crying every night saying over and over "I'm just so sad. I've never been this sad in my whole life." And she listened. And comforted. And she stood by me when I almost lost my mind with grief about 6 months after he died. I had no idea how she did it knowing the kind of loss she was enduring herself. 
But now I sit, almost nightly with an 8 year old little boy who cries for his "Mombo", the person he refers to as "the nicest person I ever knew." And I give him the space and time to grieve his own loss. Recently he said to me, "why don't you cry all the time?" I thought about it for a minute and said "Max, I am sad and I cry everyday. You just don't always see it. I miss my mom but I know if she were here, her biggest concern would be if you were okay. So I'm just making sure you are okay." And that's when I figured out how my mother managed to listen and comfort me not only through the loss of my brother but through losing her too.

Motherhood is a powerful force in the universe. It doesn't seem fair that anyone should have to endure the loss of a mother.