My mother called me at college, early in the morning, on the day of her death, to remind me to turn in my financial aid information for my impending senior year. Our conversation was brief and ended with our usual, “I love you,” and little did I suspect that she would turn the final page in the story of our lives together that spring afternoon.
On the separate occasions that my own daughters were presented to me, squalling in their disdain of leaving my warmth, I had already begun the tale of our lives together. I’d nurtured them in utero with good food, music that I thought any developing fetus might love, and stories by Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Margaret Brown and all of my childhood favorites. Becoming a mother, the role that I take most sacredly, made me an integral supporting character in the story of their lives. No matter what milestone they reached, success they accomplished, or heartache they endured, my presence was written firmly on their pages in indelible ink. As my own mother had been the arms waiting to hold me, the ears open to listening, and the words of guidance that I most cherished, I endeavored to be the same for them.
Most of the time our plot was sunny and full of the natural fun and laughter that we all craved. When storms, like heartbreak, illness, or the impulsive choices of the teenaged brain struck, we bolstered in and rode it out together. Though the situations may have differed we were still writing a book that I’d read before.
When my daughters reached young adulthood, I entered into a dauntingly unfamiliar territory. When I was 18, my mother’s terminal illness caused her to weakly hand the pen to me to continue our tale. Immaturity, inexperience, and grief made my version of the story scattered and our plot weak. I veered off into dark subplots and invited in characters that I normally would have avoided. While my greatest supporting character was dying, I couldn’t consult her expertise.
As my own daughters broached 18, I was struck by a foreignness that I couldn’t shake for the first few years. Of course, I was still there, but not in every sense of the way. There were doubts and questions. How do I guide them when they seem so grown? How can I conjure advice that I was never given? Where does my character fit in this scenario? Fortunately, I was driven by the only memory that I had of being their age; needing her. Just simply, purely and fully still needing my mother, no matter how grown I looked, or how capable I mostly seemed, I needed her. Knowing this, aided me in learning my new role. I realized that no matter how adroitly or eloquently they wrote, there would be times that the pen would be handed back to me. I relaxed, I listened, and the advice came as I began to see where I belonged.
This morning, I watched my youngest leave for work. Dressed In smart business attire, she approached this Monday with a bright smile, eager to begin her day as a recently promoted human resources specialist. This past weekend, I was equally impressed with my oldest as she ran at full speed through a local store’s parking lot to help an elderly woman that she’d witnessed falling. While they both still live at home; my youngest saving money as she waits for her fiancé to graduate this fall, and my oldest as she finishes her medical school rotations, I am blessed to witness these vignettes. However, I am sometimes struck with the sadness that my mother never got to do the same. At our denouement I was still stuck in conflict without a resolution in sight. I was, at my best, a struggling college junior with a crappy boyfriend, and underdeveloped coping skills. She didn’t see my achievements, advancements, acts of compassion, or the strong capable woman that I am today.
Thankfully, I’ve experienced the growth of my children, from conception to adulthood, in full circle. Gratefully, I have the memory and insight of the faith that I had in their ability to do the right thing even in their darkest of situations. I like to think that my mother was soothed by that same insight and faith in me as she handed me the pen to finish our story. Perhaps, the gift in all of this, the true denouement, is the supreme level of reverence and appreciation that I hold for every miniscule moment, every tiny memory and sequence, that I share with my precious adult children.
What do you hold most sacred? Who are the most important characters in your story?