On Mothers, Mothering, and Memories

Carol Fahrbach, my mom
Photo by my Aunt Corliss

That is my mom pictured above. She sure loved her Red Hat Ladies and all of their fun events. Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of my mom's passing. I can't believe it has been that long. In many ways, the night she collapsed and was hospitalized and the following day that she died seem like things that just happened yesterday. Though there is an immediacy to my memories of that time, there is also a remoteness. The passage of time can soften the edges of things if you allow it to. There really is truth to the fact that there isn't a day that goes by without thinking about someone who you have lost. 

Wednesday was no exception. The days leading up to that day were kind of vaguely hard for me. I couldn't really put my finger on why though. The best I can do is to say that I miss having someone to "mother" me. The last couple of days I have been considering how most of us need some kind of parental figure regardless of how old we get or who that figure might be. Even when our own parents are gone or absent in some way, I think we seek out the company of others who will fill that missing role for us. 

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with some people who became "surrogate" mothers for me. For a time, I worked at a bank and had a group of older ladies that kind of "mothered" me. They provided different examples of mothering, ones that I hadn't considered or perhaps didn't think applied to me and my own mom. One woman showed me how to both love and be pissed off at her family at the same time! Another woman showed me how love is something that can be elastic and can overlook deficiency; her love for her wayward daughter showed no monetary (or emotional) boundaries. My manager at the time, also a mom of three older, married men, was the master of diplomacy. She seemed to be able to test the boundaries with both her sons and daughters-in-law just enough to get her point across. She was also the same person who "adopted" another young woman at the branch whose mom lived far away. They really were like mother and daughter. I got to see up close too how a mom's idea of the parental/child relationship can be unrealistic and that a parent can be disappointed and sad when those expectations don't work out. As a group, the ladies that I worked with turned their mothering focus on me occasionally. I was included in after work activities, events that included socializing at dinner, going to the movies, and attending concerts in our local park. I felt "loved" in a way and like I belonged somewhere. This all came at a time when my relationship with my own mom was still pretty good. I did find myself floundering however with regard to having "family" and these ladies helped to fill in that gap.

There are also times when I have received "mothering" from women who are older than me but who aren't moms, per se. My oldest and dearest friend is seven years older than me. She isn't a mom (to a human child at least, she is a dog mom though) but her experience is invaluable and when she offers advice or observations, I listen. Additionally, my oldest sister-in-law has been a tremendous help, giving me some gentle prodding and poking when I needed it most. Her support of me through a very difficult medical time (and at all other times as well) is a true gift and one I won't forget. Over the years too, I have had women friends who are without exception, older than me. I find that the age gap helps me somehow and draws me to them. I pay attention when they tell me things that they have learned over the years. Their life experiences help me to fill in the gaps that are missing in my personal education. 

As I had a chance to reflect these last couple of days, I know in my heart that mothering can come from a place where you least expect it. When my mom was dying, my aunt (her sister) came to help my dad at the hospital. Because my relationship with my mom at that point had been strained for awhile I hadn't really seen my aunt much over the past couple of years. She was there though at the hospital and was a tremendous help to me. My mom's passing created an additional "hole" for me. There is some extra pain I think, an added layer of grief that exists, when your parent passes and you haven't always gotten on well with them. My aunt though stepped right in to fix things. I now meet regularly with both my aunt and cousin (my aunt's younger daughter) for lunch. We are frequently joined by my other aunt too. She is technically my cousin's aunt but I consider her to be my aunt too. The three of them have provided some real comfort to me over the past five years. They are a gracious crew; no one says anything to me about past transgressions. There isn't anything but love and kindness. Every time I drive away after finishing one of our lunches, I am so grateful for the blessing of their company.

As I mentioned above, the old adage of not a day going by without thinking of a loved one who has passed, is very true. Thank goodness that there are other people who are willing to step in, whether knowingly or not, to provide support, care and love; to fill the gap that a loved one leaves behind when they pass away. No matter how old you get, you still need a "mom" or "dad" to help you along on your journey. Thank goodness that families and friends are there for us when we need them.

Thanks for reading,