Our mothers. Our givers of life. Over the course of our lifelong relationships with our mothers we often lose sight of that fundamental, unalterable, fact. They gave us life. Without them, there is no us. Our fathers contributed to the life-giving process but only on a relatively small biological level. It was our mothers that bore the real physical and emotional burdens required to give and sustain live. A mother’s death brings those sacrifices into sharper focus.
The burdens of motherhood are heavier for some women than for others. Some seem naturally disposed to the role while, for others, the physical and/or emotional tolls are much heavier. But, for all women, the sacrifices made are often permanent and always life-altering. Sacrifices that are too often minimized, especially by us males. It is often not until our mother’s death that we achieve any kind of real appreciation.
While we all have mothers, only a mother can acutely relate to the true meaning of the word “motherhood”. The burdens of motherhood are not easily understood except by those that have lived it.
An Ultimate Life Event-Our Mother’s Death
Our individual journeys through life are marked by singular events and milestones. Some grand and some small. Many of those events merely provide us with opportunities for future reflective nostalgia. Pleasant strolls down memory lane. A select few, however, leave lasting impressions and serve to shape who we are and what we become.
Other than the loss of a child no single life event is comparable to the loss of our mother. Our mother’s death is a milestone like no other. The death of our father and the loss of grandparents are devastating and life-altering in their own unique ways, but they are not equal to the death of our mother in terms of pure primal impact. Our givers of life are gone.
When our mothers pass we forever lose that most basic and primal human connection. Regardless of the nature of our mother/child relationships their deaths leave a void never to be refilled. Even when we think we are prepared for their eventual absence we are not. If we are able to prepare ourselves it only serves to provide a tepid barrier against the initial shock. There is no way to adequately prepare for the ongoing, never-ending, reality that our mothers are gone.
The passing of time does indeed heal most wounds but, in this case, the most we can expect is a gradual numbing.
Even if we are fortunate enough to have had our mothers well into our own adulthood their passing still leaves us feeling untethered. Somehow suddenly adrift and shoreless. It’s as if the small child deep within us cannot fully grasp that our primary pillar post has been removed from our grasp. Maybe we only needed to touch that post very occasionally but we knew it was there and we derived comfort from its availability and solidity. A fundamental anchor point has been lost. We eventually regain most, but not all, of our bearings.
Soon after our mothers die we begin the idealization process. We employ our unique talents for selective memory to begin to construct idealized visions of our mothers. This is, in a way, unfortunate as it serves to erode our memory of many of the individual qualities that made them so uniquely “our” mothers. This idealization also tends to diminish our ability to look back on our relationships with our mothers with perspective and objectivity. There are no “June Cleavers”. Our mothers were human. The pearl-wearing June Cleaver breezed through motherhood without ever breaking a sweat. She had no apparent unfulfilled aspirations or conflict.
My mother was in no way like the fictitious June. She cajoled, she harangued, and she connived. She was not afraid to raise her voice when needed and she could be bitingly sarcastic. But, she also left a genuine legacy to her children that June Cleaver could not match.
Maintaining Objectivity Beyond Our Mother’s Death
Maintaining an objective—non-idealized—view of our mothers can give us greater appreciation for what they did and what sacrifices they had to make. Most of our mothers did have aspirations beyond motherhood. For us baby boomers the majority of our mother’s youthful aspirations went either partially or completely unfulfilled. Just one of the many sacrifices they made. Their qualities as mothers were a thick brew of all the complex elements of their personalities. Intentionally trying to selectively restrict our memories can cloud our view of them as fellow humans who did their best within very difficult roles.
Even though they are gone, our mothers leave behind a rich legacy. My mother’s legacy would include: humor, love of music, artistic talent, devotion to family, strength under adversity, curiosity, an unflinching support of any underdog, and an uncanny ability to make lemonade out of lemons. It would also include: stubbornness, sarcasm, compulsion, depression, and obsession.
All too human and a true mother…….