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

This mother’s day has me thinking a whole lot about my mom. She passed away in 1997. I was 25. She was 65. Since then, mother’s day hasn’t been too big a deal for me. There isn’t a charge of melancholy either, 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. She never taught me practical things like how to cook, sew, or do laundry. Years after I moved out and was in my early 20′s, I 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 whole life was dedicated to tending to the needs of others. These sound like noble traits, but to me, they leave me feeling sad. From her childhood until she died, she was at the demands of others. As a child she had no choice. As a young woman she didn’t know better. As a grown woman she believed she was powerless to experience a different life. I believe 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 luxury 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. This gave me the opportunity 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. She would tell me that if she were able to go to high school she would have joined sports. How she use to love to run as a child. How she thought marriage would bring her freedom.

Once in Guanajuato, Mexico we were on a bumpy bus ride. I looked over to see my mother with her mouth open. Like a child she let the bumpy ride allow her jaw to hang and make funny sounds come from her throat. It was a rare moment seeing my mother 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 is so because she told me that when she died she didn’t want a funeral. “People should see me when I am alive”. Perhaps the most telling moment was 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 pay back”. Without hesitation and with a sharp anger in her soul she yelled “I never did anything to deserve what all of you have put me through!”

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 who she was. If she could have lived her life and had a chance to get to know herself, I wonder what she could have taught me.

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 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 am still understanding what works for me. Not in spite of or in light of my mother or my family. It’s pretty tricky and I’m assuming a lifelong process.

Oh, but there was the time when I was a kid, 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. She was a mother who did whatever her family needed. I just wish there would have been opportunity for her to be with and give to herself. I honestly don’t think her children were her life by choice. But it was her reality and she did her job well. Given a choice, I know things would have been much different. I not only grieve the mother I lost when I was 25. I grieve the woman who could have been.


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