My mother, daughter, and girlfriend have all lost their own mothers at a young age, all to different illnesses. Each of their moms had to stare their own mortality square in the eye, and hope for the best for their daughters. They did everything they could to love and protect their little ones in the time they had, but ultimately, they had no choice but to leave them to grow up without their biological mother.
Tuberculosis, Cancer, and Cystic Fibrosis. Those are the diseases that took my mom, Sarah, and Shelby’s mothers, each before their daughters were even ten years old. Though each is of a different generation and time in their life, they have all needed to learn how to become a mother after losing their own biological mother. They each picked up surrogate mothers along the way. Friends of the family, adoptive parents, neighbors, teachers, and other relatives were all able to form part of the village it takes.
But none had their biological mothers. I can’t begin to fathom that.
My mom was adopted not too long after her mother died. While she was raised with love, care, and a great adoptive mother and father, she never got to know her biological mother’s take on things when she was married or had children of her own. Sarah is just now leading into being a mom, in her 30’s, and she’s doing it without her own mother.
But Shelby is only 9. She has quite a bit of time before she becomes a mother to anyone more than her dogs. She was old enough to see her mother willing to walk to the ends of the earth for her daughter. Megan set a shining example of what a mom will do for her children. And then she died.
I’m left to figure out what examples Shelby will need in the future. I have to wonder how my reactions to situations such as puberty, boys, and her leaving the house will run counter to what Megan’s would have been. Not only do I need to do right by Shelby, I also feel the need to do right by Megan. You see, Megan was a mother of sorts to me as well. She taught me as much about being a parent as my own mother.
As lucky as Shelby and I are to have Sarah in our lives, there will always be a nagging thought of “what would Megan do in this situation?” It’s not necessarily overwhelming, but it’s always present. I know for a fact that Megan really only cares that Shelby is happy, and we have that in spades, but I still wonder how she would approach it. I had so much more to learn from her. We have not yet reached a situation where Sarah approaches something differently than what I feel Megan would have, and I disagree with it, but I’m certain that time will come.
It’s likely that a sizable proportion of the people reading these words right now are mothers, doing it alone. More still may have had prepared themselves to become mothers, and had the chance ripped away. There are widowers, like myself, that have to be both the mom and the dad, and it’s terrifying to not know what you don’t know.
Watching my mother in law tearing up on mother’s day, because it doesn’t feel like a day to celebrate anymore is tough. Seeing Megan struggling to get out of bed on Mother’s day was tough. Witnessing Shelby have a mother’s day without her mom is tough. Knowing that Sarah loves and cares for Shelby as if she’s her own, while simultaneously needing her own mother is tough. The awareness that, though she doesn’t talk about it much, my own mom is now motherless on mother’s day is tough.
Being a mom, in any capacity, widowed, or otherwise, is f’n tough. It’s only complicated more when you don’t have your own mom to bounce things off of. What I’m finding however is that the lessons our moms taught us even when we were small children are still being taught, even if they are no longer here to review them.