“My mother died thirty-six years ago….At fifty-nine I have lived four years longer than my mother did. In these last years as I wrote about Mom, as I felt certain that I too would die at fifty-five, as my extra bonus years became a precious gift, I realized that it’s impossible to separate where a mother ends and a daughter begins. I realized that those we love never really die.” These are the opening words in the prologue to Gail Straub’s Returning to My Mother’s House that I am reading, highlighter in hand.
I was making pancakes one afternoon twenty-six years ago when I found out that my mother had died suddenly at age fifty-five. Now, I am almost fifty-two and I sometimes feel certain that I too will die at fifty-five. January 27, 2014 beckons to me, almost dares me, to enter into a phase in my life where I live longer than my mother. Lord willing.
I find myself on this day, coincidentally (Although I don’t believe in coincidence; everything happens for a reason.) , with three books in addition to Straub’s book on my desk about grandmothers, mothers, and daughters.
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is the best fiction book I have read in many years. It is about mothers, daughters, and adoption. Every night when I settle into bed and pick it up to read I am torn between wanting to find out what is going to happen next in the story and wanting to read slowly to savor the story.
Plynn Gutman wrote story of her grandmother’s life in The Work of her Hands: A prairie woman’s life in remembrance and recipes. It’s a testamony to the strength and character of her Canadian grandmother; I am working on a review of it for Story Circle Book Reviews.
I have just starting to read The Journal Keeper: A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux in which she writes about the loss of her mother and the void that her death leaves in her life.
In a few days we will attend a party to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of my husband’s mother.
What is does it mean, this time of focus on the mother-daughter relationship?
Sometimes I dream about my mom, though not as often as I would like. I wake from those dreams feeling accepted in a way I have not felt since she left. In the last dream we were at our family home, and I was asking her to tell me what she needed, what she wanted, what I could give her to make her life better.
Occasionally, I see a woman on the street and something about her reminds me of her. Oddly, I am always slightly disappointed when I realize it is not her. It is as if I am willing to suspend disbelief for just long enough to think it could be her, eternally fifty-five, waiting for me to find her.
I wonder what it would be like if I could talk to her, woman-to-woman, both of us in now our fifiies. If somehow, magically, I could meet her for coffee at Starbucks one afternoon, what would we talk about?
I would tell her about Laurinda and Michael; she adored her grandchildren just as I do my own! I might pull out a few pictures from my purse to show her what fine people they grew up to be. I would show her a picture of Laurinda on her wedding day and I would point out that she wore her grandmother’s necklace and earrings on that special day. I would show her pictures of Makiya Rose and tell her how Laurinda has taught her that the pictures in her china cabinet belong to Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa.
I would ask her what made her happy during her life what left her feeling fulfilled. I would ask what she wished she could have done that she didn’t have an opportunity to, what made her sad. I would tell her I miss her, still after all these years; I would confess that I sometimes cry from missing her so much.
She was a daughter, a mother, and a grandmother who did nothing extraordinary during her lifetime that the world would deem worth remembering. Yet she lives on in the stories I tell my children about her; she lives on in a tiny arm that reaches up to point to a faded photograph in a china cabinet when asked the question “where is Great-Grandma”.
I am certain that in this mother-daughter season I find myself in there are lessons to be learned so I will read these books carefully and thoughtfully. Everything happens for a reason.
Linda, this is a lovely tribute to your mother and to all mothers and daughters.
My mother said for years she was sure she would die at sixty-three, as her mother had. Although Mother lived to be seventy-five, she suffered a near-fatal heart attack when she was fifty-five and at the time wasn’t expected to live more than a few months. She lived by virtue of, she said, God and a good doctor, and had some happy years, but fifty-five marked a turning point for her. At fifty-nine, I find it hard to believe I’ve “caught up” with her. I miss her terribly and, like you, wish I could continue the conversation. She’s always with me.
I reviewed Returning to My Mother’s House for Story Circle. If I’d had more time, my review would have been more balanced with regard to events that took place at the end. But on first reading, I was jarred by that opening passage and by other details that weren’t identical but reflected my own mother-daughter experience.
I’ll put your other recommendations on my to-read list. Thanks for writing.
Hi Kathy, I’m pleased to know that you were blessed to have your mom in your life for a good number of years after her heart attack. It’s interesting that we both had a similar reaction to the first part of Returning to My Mother’s House. I read your review and thought it was very good.
A beautiful and loving tribute to a loving mum, Linda!