The questions I never asked in my twenties consumed me as I was pregnant in my mid-thirties: When did you start with solids? Did you sleep train (was that even a thing)? And, now, how do I keep your memory alive when my son will never have the gift of knowing you?
My son is approaching two and not having my mom present for this motherhood journey has been an experience of its own. For some, it may not be a biological mother who has passed but rather a dear aunt that lives one too many time zones away or a severed relationship with a childhood friend you wish was as close as you hoped when the arrival of your first child (or second, or third) came along. It’s the feeling, the loss, the yearning that is the same no matter the relationship label. Having a child is one of those things that bring me back to this bond and becoming a mom without my own.
Ironically, my maternal grandmother died giving birth to my mother’s youngest sibling – who passed along with her mother. My mom was 12 years old and left to become the woman of the house, taking care of an older brother, a younger sister and a father who worked long hours as a business owner. Mom was a loyal supporter of all things – family, friends, education, and adventure. I realize this now as I reflect on her life and wonder, admire where her strength came from.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 while pregnant with me. A survivor for 29 years and various reoccurrences, she left us six months before my wedding day, five years before my son was born and all the days in between when I asked, “What did you do? How did you manage your life? How did you raise a child while in treatment, while I’m barely able to function with a great sleeper?”
If I can share anything of this life without my mom, it is to find at least one other fearless supporter you can call upon and to try one of these rituals that have helped develop a connection between my son and the memory of my mother – or, at the very least, peace within me knowing I’m doing what I can to bring her closer to my son that will never know her physical being.
Cheers to all the moments
My mom was a lover of lattes. Coffee was food that always brought us together. Whatever coffee house was on the way was the meeting place for quick chats, long afternoons or grab-n-go’s before shopping. Ching. Ching. It was said before each of us took the first sip. Now, it’s a ritual my husband unabashedly abides by and a habit my son already joins in on with his morning milk. One day he will understand its beginning and the woman who brought everyone together with her brilliant smile and endless positivity.
Interpret memories for the physical space
In the corner above his crib hangs a flurry of butterfly specimens – his grandma watching over him. So the story goes, my mom and her soul-friend were hiking in the mountains outside Truckee, Colorado, and wrapped in spiritual discussion, a swarm of butterflies enveloped them.
This story was last told by this friend at my mother’s funeral, and not only speaks to the beautiful spirit that I want my son to know lives inside him, but the hidden adventurousness and curiosity that was my mom – a woman who offered to work on the farms of England’s countryside while backpacking through Europe just to earn a night’s stay (something I don’t know was even safe in the mid-70s).
Whether it’s butterflies, a coin collection, or a piece of nostalgia your loved one carried, find a memory that resonates with the history you are cultivating for your child, and create a visual display; have these memories become a part of your child’s story.
Look for the goodness in people.
First, it was the smile. Then, you realized it was how she made you feel. People were drawn to her. She lived by the motto: “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” (No wonder I loved Annie.) It didn’t matter if she just came from chemo, radiation, or was finally back in remission – she was a natural beauty, inside and out. She loved everyone, and everyone loved her.
As her only biological daughter, I’m grateful to have her features and part of her heart, with her love, kindness, and generosity to teach my son. Giving him the love of knowledge, the love of culture and the love to look for the goodness in the world is a gift that brings us all together – and is never cliché.
It’s a “kindness matters” attitude, and giving my son the opportunity to learn about his role in the world with every personal interaction, trip to the museum, or ride on public transit. Be aware and see the people of your community and connect. My mom instinctively knew that the cultural experiences she could provide would develop the emotional intelligence that is sometimes lost with the academic rigor of the classroom. These are general principles of life that aren’t specific to my mom but are the ideal core I want for my son.
These three rituals are guides and what I would most likely do even if my mom was a phone call away, but too busy packing for her next trip out west. Reflecting on my childhood and interpreting her basic values in raising me brings me immediately closer to knowing the answers to my remaining questions for her. Life is never the same after our loved ones leave us, but infusing my mom’s essence into the rituals for my son gives me the feeling that he’ll carry her memory with every morning “ching, ching.”