It’s bizarre – you never realize how something may impact your life until you actually experience it, and even then, you still may not fully understand or be able to grasp the intensity of it. This is how I feel about my recent motherhood experiences. Both becoming a mother and losing my mother.
I lost my mom three months before finding out I was pregnant, and thirteen days before my wedding. My mom was amazing. I don’t say that with inflated candy-coated nostalgia; she truly was a great woman. The thing that she was most proud of in her life was being a mother and grandmother. She was my best friend. The one I would call when I was having a panic attack in grad school or the one I could bounce ideas off of without judgment. I could go on and on, but the truth is she was so much to me that I could never put it all in words.
My mom was sick for two years. She had an “extremely treatable” form of cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was stubborn and strong and it came back with such force after every treatment ended. It was torture to watch her being knocked down again and again. I had planned to get married earlier in the year after her treatment ended and she had recovered, but that never happened. I struggled with whether to wait until after the storm that we were in had passed or to go ahead and plan it so that regardless of what happened, she would be there. After postponing it a little, I decided on the latter. Unfortunately, like with most things in life, we were not in charge. I made it through my wedding because that is what she would have wanted me to do: celebrate, and give my dad and the rest of the family something else to focus on. To this day, I am still not sure if I made the right choice, but I can say that I am happy that she was there when I found my dress and that she got to see the venue and that she was truly happy for me.
During our honeymoon, my husband and I made the decision that after my current birth control pack, we would start trying to get pregnant. We had heard that it could take months or years, so we decided we would begin the journey. I went in for a physical, thinking it would be a good idea to make sure I was in tiptop shape. I told my doctor that I had just gone off the pill, but had not yet gotten my cycle back. A short “just to make sure” pregnancy test later, and I was in tears and overwhelmed with a feeling that my mom somehow had a part in this. My mom who always said, “Don’t wait too long to have kids.”
This is where it gets even harder. I have moments when I think she is looking out for me or watching over me, like the one in the doctor’s office when the doctor said, “Congratulations!” Then I have the empty moments, the moments where I feel the void left by her absence. Those are deep and strong. I remember being pregnant and driving home from work and feeling incredibly sad, the kind of sadness that knocks you over like a strong ocean wave. I called my sister practically hysterical (my sadness definitely intensified by my wild pregnancy hormones) and all I could manage to get out was, “I miss her so much.” I remember after we checked into the hospital and the doctor asked me who I wanted in the room with me during the birth, I wanted to say, “My mom, of course.” I wanted her to hold my hand and tell me it’s okay and remind me to be strong. I wanted to look at her looking at me and her grandbaby with eyes filled with a mixture of happy tears and pride.
So many times I wonder if I am doing it – this mothering thing – right. I think about how my mom would have the answer; she would know exactly what to do. If only I could call her. I wonder if certain things my son does are things that I ever did. Sometimes I ask my dad or my sister, but I know they don’t remember, at least not like a mom would. Not like my mom would.
Sometimes, I think my baby boy gives me a different purpose and a focus away from losing my mom. Not to forget her, because that will never happen, but my son is almost a tribute to who she was and what she loved: family. Other times, I think being a mom reminds me how much I miss her. I am so incredibly sad that my son will not know his Grandma Tena in person. He will know stories and he will recognize her face from pictures, but he won’t know how it feels to be wrapped in her arms or to have her soothing voice lull him to sleep. He won’t know the silly songs exactly the way she sang them or how her deep and endless love could make him feel so special. Those things make me so sad. I get jealous when I see three generations out shopping or having lunch, the grandmother tending to the baby while the mother enjoys the few bites of uninterrupted food that she has been granted.
I have incredible friends and I have a wonderful mother-in-law, but that is not the same as having your mother. The last few years have been filled with so many bittersweet moments and I have to be thankful that I have the sweet to balance out some of the bitter. I am so thankful that I was able to have 32 wonderful years with her. I am thankful that through her example for those 32 years, she showed me what it is to be a wonderful, caring mother. Because she is not a phone call away to ask questions, I have to dig deeper. I have to remember her ways and use those memories to give me guidance.
I will raise my son as a tribute to the love she so selflessly gave. I was given a mother who loved me so intensely that it made saying goodbye to her that much more painful. I can’t help but be thankful.
Melanie Gingrich lives in Los Angeles with her wonderfully supportive husband, perfect son, and two crazy dogs. She has her dream job at a pediatric hospital working as a Speech-Language Pathologist.