Mother’s Day Reflection: Grieving the Woman Who Could Have Been

Artist: Mara Friedman

This mother passed away in 1997. I was 25. She was 65. Since then, Mother’s Day hasn’t been too big a deal for me as there usually isn’t a charge of melancholy. But this year, I dunno, I just feel more emotional about the whole concept of motherhood, and my mother.

I was watching a video partially titled: Famous Figures Share Lessons From Their Moms and it started me thinking about what my mother taught me. Or better yet, what she never taught me. She never taught me practical things like how to cook, sew, or do laundry. Years after I moved out, I was in my early 20′s and asked her why she never showed me how to do these things. Her response? “You never asked”.

My mother was a quiet and very modest woman. Her entire life was dedicated to tending to the needs of others. These may sound like noble traits, but to me, they leave me feeling sad. From her childhood until her death, she was at the demands of others. As a child she had no choice but to take care of your younger siblings. As a young woman she didn’t know better as marriage and childbearing consumed her life. As a grown woman she believed she was powerless to experience a different life. I believe that, even though she wanted more from life, she did the best with what she had. She was from a different place and era. An era where many woman were not asked what they wanted, they were told what they would do. This is why I cringe when people praise my mother for her dedication to others and her consistent ability to place others needs before hers.

Out of her nine children, I am the youngest. This offered me the opportunity of getting to spend more one-on-one time with my mom. I didn’t have to share her as much as my siblings had to, which helped me to get to know the woman behind the title. In getting to know her, I saw a woman who was creative, a dreamer, and who never had a chance to really be herself. I don’t even think she had the luxury of being able to know who she was. I also saw a woman who swallowed her dreams and let out her desires in stolen moments while dad was at work or her grandkids were sleeping. I remember her telling me that if she could have attended high school she would have joined sports. How she use to love to run as a child. How she mistakenly thought marriage would bring her freedom.

In 1993, we were in Guanajuato, Mexico on a bumpy bus ride. I looked over to see my mother letting the bumpy ride allow her jaw to hang loose and make funny sounds come from her throat. It was surprising to me, to see this rare moment where my mother was so childlike and free.

Growing up, I never really appreciated my mother. I took her for granted and I know I’m not the only one. I know this because of a telling moment when I tried to apologize to her for being rude. “I’m sorry mom. If I have kids I’m sure I’ll get my payback”. Without hesitation and with an uncharacteristically sharp anger in her voice she yelled “I never did anything to deserve what all of you have put me through!” In that moment I felt like I saw her truth. A truth she held close to her. A sadness and anger that probably festered in her mind at night. A hum deep in her soul.

There are so many pieces to put together when I think of my mother. What rises to the surface after all these years is, I wish she had a different life. I wish she could have lived her life. I use to think that she never taught me domestic skills because she didn’t want me to be like her. She wanted me to be free. Now I think that she couldn’t teach me how to be a person in the world, because she didn’t know how to be one. If she could have lived her life and had a chance to get to know herself, I wonder what she could have done.

As for what she did teach me, I can honestly say that most of what I learned from my mother was covert. In my adulthood I yielded my mother’s lessons. I learned to blame myself when things went wrong.  I learned to stuff my anger and let it out in isolated fits of rage. I learned to not ask my partners for what I wanted. I learned how to resent. After she died, I swung in the opposite direction. I spoke up, I craved freedom. I took chances. I lived the life she never could. Now, I access my mother’s organized way of handling responsibilities and still fear being trapped. I continue to sift through who I am without my family story, not in spite of, but in light of my mother’s unlived life. It’s pretty tricky and I’m assuming a lifelong process.

Oh, but there was the time when I was a little kid, when she taught me how to put my underwear on right. She also taught me how to thread a needle and quickly tie a knot in the thread. That was cool.

I know she did her best, and I know she loved me even though she didn’t want so ,many kids. She was a mother who used her skills to run a household efficiently. I just wish there would have been opportunity for her to be with herself and give to herself. I honestly don’t think her children were her life by choice. But it was her reality and she did what she could to make the most of it. Given a choice, I know things would have been much different.

So on this Mother’s Day, I not only grieve the mother I lost when I was 25. I grieve the woman who could have been.


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