I want my mom. I wish my mom was here.
That’s what I wrote in my first-ever journal, when I was in the eighth grade and learning that the best way for me sort through my feelings was to stretch adjectives and verbs and punctuation around them until I could breathe again. I found the journal, shoved in a forgotten drawer with some YA books, a while back. I traced my finger over the words. I wish my mom was here, I’d written.
Losing a parent is hard, I’ve heard; losing my mother was impossible. For all of her shadows, she was sunshine, and even her shadows were what I knew. She was home base, even when she was unreliable, even when she was sick. And even when she was unreliable, even when she was sick, she was like me. We were, figuratively and literally, made of the same stuff. And for a long time, the day I lost her marked the day my life catapulted into an After that seemed, well, impossible. Time and again I lay in bed, which had the tendency to change locations, learning how to cry silently, always rehearsing the same words, over and over, like a mantra: I wish my mom was here.
Two years after her death, when I moved in with my brother and his wife, I was unaccustomed to normalcy. I’d spent the past two years learning how to draw lines and build brick walls and cry silently; I had no interest, really, in being told what time to go to bed or being told that I couldn’t go somewhere or, frankly, in being a part of a family. What had been lost, I believed, could not be recovered.
It’s been 10 years since they asked me if I wanted, maybe, to stay for good; I have no idea whether they or anyone else thought that I would. What has happened to us has been part grace and part hard work, part sticking it out, and part never, ever wanting to leave. What has happened is something that completely supersedes DNA and age and the figurative life lemon of loss; what has happened is that we’ve became a family.
This didn’t happen immediately, or even kind of immediately. It didn’t happen within the first year or even the first five years. My missing-mother ache settled down after awhile, but it didn’t disappear completely, and I decided that what I had—a family, after all—was good enough that I shouldn’t push it. But time and grace both have a way about them, and as I walked through the shady paths of forgiveness and release, the ones that took me into the clearings of joy and acceptance, I often found that it was my mom who walked with me.
At first, it was more about structure and reliability and trust; she never forgot my orthodontist appointment or to pick me up from school. Because I had been hurt and because this was her first experience at mothering a hurt, angsty teenager, it took us a long time to figure out how to speak each other’s languages, but the thing she never failed to give me was her presence. She never delivered emotional monologues to me, but when I got my wisdom teeth out and was bleeding more than I should have been, she paced by my bed on the phone with the doctor. When it was time for me to go to college, she took me shopping for cleaning products and dorm linens. The night before I graduated from college, she slept in the bed with me because I wasn’t quite ready to be completely grown-up. The more she showed up, the more I began to believe she would show up. I didn’t realize this for a long time, but she was the first person to teach me the foundational truths of perfect love: It never gives up; it always shows up.
After awhile, I began to believe that, and I began to understand that perhaps this is how it was meant to be. Though there’s still an ache when I think about the things my biological mother missed and will miss, there’s no longer that biting throb of withoutness that accompanied her loss for so long. And while I am still taken aback by the remarkableness of the whole thing, of a God who sees and hears and fills us, sometimes I forget that this isn’t just how it is, that the two of us aren’t just a normal mother and daughter who do life together and love each other a whole lot and occasionally disagree about how much floral is too much floral.
Psalm 68:5 says that God is a father to the fatherless, and for a long time, this made me shrug: What about the motherless? But what I found was that they seemed to be one and the same; either way, there’s a void that puts the Grand Canyon to shame. Here I am to say, though, that the love of our God is more powerful than the most impossible sadness.
My mom and I are still learning each other, but every day, she chooses to be my mother, teaching me by the hour that love is a choice—the choice. I believe this was His plan all along, as he worked in both of us. Because of her, I know more about His goodness and His grace and His redemption. And because of her, “motherless” is not a thing I am anymore.
The truth is, those familiar words still come up all the time. If I’m having a particularly rough day, if something exciting has just happened, if I need someone to tell me the floral pattern is a bad idea, they resurface. If I’m dreaming or if I’m breaking or if I’m standing on the sidewalk on a perfectly normal day but suddenly, I feel alone, I hear them again: I want my mom. I wish my mom was here. Except now, she’s only a phone call away.
Despite the normalcy of our relationship now, I still notice it. I know what it’s like to be reminded again and again of the thing you’re without, and so when those moments pass without the pang, I notice it. She would roll her eyes at the cheesiness of this truth, but it’s the tiny, baby mama moments that slay me; it’s when I have someone to call to ask where the chicken broth is in the grocery store or does she think it’s probably just allergies. It’s, “You’re never going to believe this,” and “And then he said…” and, “I’m coming home this weekend.” It’s saying it–Mom–every single day.
And sometimes, it does escape me, because something’s wrong and I need to hear her voice. I forget that this isn’t how it’s always been and I tell Siri, “Call Mom” without giving it a second thought. When she answers, I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Mom? It’s me. I miss you. I wish you were here.”
“Hey,” she says. “Everything is going to be just fine.” And I believe her, because she and I? We’re made of the same stuff.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. Thank you for choosing to be mine.