Last year around Mother’s Day I read an article that has really stuck with me called Dear Kids by John Dickerson. In the article the Dickerson urges mother’s to write letters, theoretically for their children to have and hold on to long after the parent has died. Although I agree with this call to action, it was more the foundational concept that his urgings are based on that has stuck with me. Dickerson writes,
“Child-parent conversations are out of phase. I didn’t know what questions to ask to really get at the truth of her life. I was busy trying to figure out who I was, which was all the shelving in my brain could accommodate at that age. My progress was fun for her to watch. It reminded her of her own. She didn’t want me asking deep, plumbing questions of her.”
Since my mother has died, I’ve reflected on what I knew of her a countless number of times, but these were seen through the filter of me at age 5, 10, 15, and 20. I had no context for understanding my mother who was 30, 35, 40, 50; not did I understand what it meant to be an adult, wife, and parent. My memory of my mother is limited and over time I’ve stumbled on many questions I wished I had her, but at the time I didn’t even know which questions would be important to ask.
Even if I had asked the right questions about adulthood, parenthood, life, or marriage, I’m not sure she would have wanted to have the candid conversation I would now value at 33. I was a child and she was a mother, at that point it was her job to give me age appropriate guidance. Honestly, had she supplied me with pearls of wisdom, would I even had understood their true meaning at the time?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how much I don’t know about my mother. Memory is so malleable and I realize I have, to some degree, constructed my own narrative. On most days this narrative is enough, but sometimes I wonder if I truly know what my mother was like. I wonder what she was like before I knew her and I wonder what she was like as the adult who I could never have fully understood because I was always a child. I’ve always known there were people I could ask – she was married to my dad for over 30 years, she had 7 brothers and sisters including a twin sister, and I have siblings who are old enough to have more perspective – but for some reason I’ve been hesitant to ask them to share their memories.
Mother’s Day always makes me acutely aware of the things which my mother’s death stole from our past, present, and future. Typically, I use Mother’s day to feel a little sorry for myself and then at the last minute I pull myself out of it and refocus on finding gratitude in the joy of being a mother. This year I decided to do something constructive in anticipation of the day by acknowledging what I’ve lately been grieving the most about my mother’s death and by actively doing something to try and fill the void. I’m sharing this with you in hopes of inspiring anyone who is missing their mother this week to reach out and ask questions or start conversations with those who knew her, even if those people aren’t the ones living in your immediate circle.
My mother had an identical twin, my Aunt Elaine. Growing up, all of our extended family lived in other states and in order to visit with them our family of 8 had to travel. As you can imagine this was a process, but still we managed to see my Aunt Elaine’s family quite regularly. I have fond memories of watching my mother visit with her twin sister, she always seemed just a little lighter.
There are few bonds closer than those of identical twins and my Aunt Elaine has memories of my mother that no one else could. So, I decided to send her an email and ask if she would be willing to let me ask her a few questions about my mother. Thankfully, she not only agreed to answer my questions but also agreed to let me share some brief snippets here. The questions you want to ask will be different and the responses you receive might make you sad and they might make you smile, but either way I promise you this is a valuable exercise.
Mom talked a lot about your mother (my grandmother) in kind of an abstract way, but I wish I could imagine more about her. What kind of mother was she? What was her relationship like with her kids?
She was so loving, truly beautiful inside and out. We adored her, all her children adored her. We thought she was so beautiful with a beautiful smile. Our Grandmother would say we were looking at her with eyes of love. Mom had a quality of what I would call Grace. Our mother was full of grace, very kind. If any of her daughters are good mothers, it is because of our mother’s example. And hopefully that has spread on to our own girls. I think it has, don’t you?
As you know, I have two young daughters and it makes me wonder what Mom was like at their age. Do you remember what you guys loved to play when you were little girls?
I remember having a little record player with records that we would dance around to – Tina the Ballerina and Sunday School Songs, etc. I remember those songs to this day. When Evelyn was a little older she had a huge basket of paper dolls which she kept in our bedroom closet. In those days all the movie stars were made into paper dolls. We played a lot with those.
Do you have any fun/funny/fond memories of high school? Did mom have any boyfriends? What was she like as a teenager?
Evelyn was a lot of fun as a teenager. She had that cute little short haircut. Everyone said she looked like Julie Andrews in the Sound Of Music. She had one serious boyfriend in high school. She was breaking up with him at the same time I was breaking up with my first serious boyfriend. I remember my mom was scrubbing the floor one day when Evelyn and I were sad over our losses and she cheerily said as she was scrubbing, “Off with the old, on with the new.” I will never forget that, nor would Evelyn have. You would have had to be there to appreciate the comment.
Was mom eager to become a new mother? Do you remember that time in both of your lives?
We both thought we would have a lot of children, so when they came didn’t matter. I liked when we were both pregnant at the same time, which happened three times. Your Dad would call us the preggers. Our children were sort of step and stairs, first me, then her, then me then her . . .but your mom just kept right on going. And yes, she was very eager to become a new mother, EVERY TIME.
What do you miss about mom? When do you miss her the most?
You would think I would miss her most on our birthday or holidays, or on the anniversary of her death, but it is the same every day. I could no more stop missing or thinking about Evelyn than I could stop breathing. I miss her especially at dusk. While other people might be oohing and aahing at the sunset, I am just missing my twin. I’m thinking, where are you Evelyn? A twin never dies to the other. Evelyn and I always knew we were there for each other, I miss that the most.
What do you wish she could have been around for?
This answer is so obvious. Every time one of her grandchildren is born I am so sad that you mom is not there. Your Evelyn was the first grandchild born after her death, and there have been many more after. I hurt that Evelyn was not there for you and not there for the others. She would have brought a comfort and joy of that you are all missing.
I will say for those who have memories to share, this was a gift that I will always treasure. Having a different perspective on my mother has helped me to have a deeper understanding of her and to see things from a different perspective. We’ve had many people leave comments on the site saying they aren’t sure about sharing memories because they don’t want to open wounds or upset people; while I can’t promise this won’t ever happen, what I can tell you is that for many people the memories you share will be invaluable.
I am so happy I finally reached out to start this conversation, especially because my aunt and I live in different states and don’t have the opportunity to have everyday conversations. I strongly urge you this Mother’s Day to reach out to someone – anyone – and take some time to share memories.
We have quite a few Mother’s Day posts which you can check out here. We highly recommend you subscribe to receive posts straight to your email inbox.