The precursor of the mirror is the mother's face.
~D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, 1971
Jane & Shari Morrell - 1962 or 1963
It has been nearly 24 years since I lost my mother. She died on June 14, 1987 of colon cancer. I have both painful and beautiful memories from that year. But the beautiful memories are the ones I choose to hold in my heart forever.
My mom and I developed a very special closeness during the last months of her life that I had always longed for. When she died, I had the comfort and peace of knowing that my mom absolutely knew how much I loved her and that nothing was as important to me as caring for her all those months she was terminally ill. I never wanted to leave her. Even if all I did was sit in the same room with her, I wanted every precious minute I had left to be with my mom.
I don't think anybody can understand that desperate feeling unless they have faced that loss.
If you still have your mom, you can imagine ~ but you can't know that pain. The loss of a mother is very deep no matter what your relationship was or wasn't. It is a loss that is felt for the rest of your life. And it is very strange to have birthdays your mom never had.
I often wonder what my mom would think of the woman I have become. I was so young when I lost her. In so many ways, I feel like a completely different person today. But in many ways, I am exactly the same (inside). I will always wonder what our relationship would have been like, might have become, or might never have been . . . had she not died so prematurely.
But she did. And that must have been God's plan or she would still be here.
I don't want this to be a sad post. Even though I am feeling overwhelming emotion and loss as I write this, it's not all sadness. I had a wonderful mother. And the reason I began writing this was because I wanted to tell you about her through the eyes of a 52-year-old daughter who has been motherless for almost 24 years. I honestly don't know how my mother would feel about me and some of my choices if she were alive today. But she would have loved me unconditionally. And I know that in my heart. I didn't feel unconditionally loved when I was younger. But I realize today that I was.
My mom was unselfish. I remember that she would always rather make sure I had what I needed than have what she wanted. She was so generous. Not only with her children, but with others. She helped people I never knew she had helped until after she died (because they told me).
My mom was strong. In hindsight, I can see where parts of my mom's life had to have been harder than I realized. She used to say, "I can psych myself into anything." She was good at rising above her challenges.
My mom had a grateful heart. She focused on her blessings and not her problems. She was such a role model to me in this way and this is where I most want to be like her. I will never forget her telling me -- in the last months of her life -- what a blessed life she had had and how good God had been to her. She listed all the "misfortunes" she had never experienced. And she told me that if it was God's will to take her prematurely, she accepted it. And so should I.
My mom was funny. In contrast to my dad, who was joking constantly, she waited for just the right moments to throw in a little zinger or a witty remark you weren't expecting. She had quick comebacks that got the best of the person attempting to tease her. I'll never forget when I tried to blame her for my weight struggles as an adult by saying, "It's your fault. You trained me to eat everything on my plate." She grinned with that one raised eyebrow and shot right back, "I made you eat everything on your own plate, not everyone else's." (Touche')
My mom was self-controlled. She loved chocolate. But I will never forget her keeping one of those huge Hershey bars in the refrigerator and breaking off ONE SQUARE a day, usually after lunch. And she rarely ever challenged or disagreed with my dad in front of us. I know now that she didn't agree with him on everything. But she told him in private.
I will never forget her coming to my room the night before I eloped at 16. My dad had gotten very upset with me for ditching PE and going to lunch instead (with my fiance'). I confessed to the crime and said I was sorry, but I didn't think it was quite the big deal he was making of it. He was so mad at me that he told me to just go off and get married. He didn't want to come to my wedding. He said I was a big disappointment and that my moral fibers were decaying (among other things). I knew how crushed and devastated I felt. What I didn't know was what my mom was going through as a mother that night. She didn't feel the way my dad did, but she couldn't tell me because she would have considered that a betrayal as a wife. I remember her coming into my bedroom the night before I left with tears in her eyes, telling me she loved me and letting me know in her own quiet way that Dad wasn't speaking for her. I wanted her to say, "He was wrong to treat you like that." But it was enough to know that she wasn't making it all my fault and she was hurting for me ... even if the words I wanted to hear could not be spoken. I didn't understand for years why she couldn't openly disagree with him for my sake. I believed I would have.
However, I understand my mother better now than I did then. And I forgave her (as well as my dad) a long, long time ago for not being able to meet all of my expectations. I realize I couldn't meet all of theirs either.
My mom was guarded and private. This is probably the biggest difference between my mother and me. My mom held everything in. I can't? I won't? I don't. This difference probably created the biggest chasm between us. I needed to express myself. I needed to communicate. I needed to work through issues, not just get past them or pretend they weren't there. My mom and I were polar opposites in this area. And it greatly inhibited our closeness ... until she got sick.
My mom was hard-working. Our home was always spotlessly clean. She prided herself on never resting until all her "work" was done, even when she was very, very sick. I am more laid back than my mom and I am not nearly as hard-working. I am good at relaxing. (I'm not proud of that, just being painfully honest.) I remember asking my mom who she went to lunch with when she was my age (I was probably in my mid-twenties when I asked). She said, "Shari, I didn't have time to go to lunch with friends when you were little. I was too busy cleaning and washing diapers and hanging clothes on a clothesline!"
(I was so glad disposable diapers were invented when I had a baby.)
My mom was a great cook. I remember sitting down at the table together as a family for almost every meal. I remember riding with her to pick up Petrillo's pizza on Saturday nights. A small special (with everything) for Dad. A large sausage and cheese for the rest of us. But I always got one slice of Dad's pizza too, which I loved. Petrillo's Pizza still brings back so many good memories.
My mom was a little controlling. She always gave me her advice, whether I asked or not. She wanted me to choose to do things the way she would choose to do them. And I resisted her. Always wanting to be my own person and not her clone. Yet I always felt I owed her a detailed explanation for everything. I was so intimidated by her and so longed for her approval. I'm not sure she saw deep enough into me to fully recognize that. But I so wanted her to be proud of me and let me know that she was (not just tell other people).
I remember my mom tucking me in and kissing me goodnight. Everyone always said, "Shari looks just like Jane!" My mom must not have thought she was all that pretty because I remember her telling me more than noce, "I know everyone says you look just like me. You do ... but you are prettier."
I remember the smell of peanut butter and pepsi on my mom's breath.
And just the other day when I was at the post office mailing a package, I thought of my mom as I was using my debit card and getting cash back. The clerk asked, "How much do you want?" I said, "Oh, give me forty bucks." Then I laughed and said, "I can still hear my mother's voice saying, 'Shari, I wish you would say dollars instead of bucks. It just sounds so much more ladylike' ... and she's been gone for 24 years."
If she were still here, I hope she would be proud of the woman I am today. But it would be enough to have her love.
I love you, Mom! I always will!