I’d roll my eyes at her (on a good day). Slam the phone down on a bad day. Slam doors when I lived at home (and then, immediately, crank Joan Jett’s song “You’re a Nag” at top volume. I’ve always been subtle.). Lie about how much my new shoes cost (or the fact that there were two pairs, or quite possibly two pairs plus an outfit and a purse). Belligerently place very high-maintenance orders at restaurants, knowing it horrified her, because, doggone it, why have them bring me food I won’t eat? She sighed, loudly, every time I’d confess a new commitment or start a new project. She possibly thought I was in need of an intervention because my particular brand of faith was a little too out there for her.
But then, five minutes after hanging up from our last conversation, I’d remember something I needed to tell her — someone I ran into, something funny I read. So I’d call her back and we’d talk for another 15 minutes.
It has now been two years since I made one of those calls, since I heard my mom’s voice. 365 days in a year, times two. Times three or four times a day. 2,550 missed conversations.
I’m so lost without her. So lonely, even with my kids and my husband and my sister and my dad and my friends and my church and my work. So empty, even with a schedule filled beyond full. I’m just now learning how to be OK with making my own decisions, even ones she wouldn’t like. For a while, I did that on purpose, out of spite that she wasn’t here to stop me.
But because she’s not here to stop me, I’m seeing things I didn’t see before, like who she really was. Annoying, loving. Wrong, right. By being indelibly herself, she’s taught me how much she mattered, and how little the trivial, emotional stuff does.
My kids don’t have to like me to love me. They don’t have to admit it, but they need me. But even if they don’t like me or love me, and even if they don’t need me, they will be changed because of me. Just as I am different because of them. We are inexorably bound, DNA and plasma and proteins in common, generations behind us, future before us.
Whether I’m here. Or not.
Because no one will ever, or has ever, loved me quite like she loved me. And no one else can ever truly understand the way we related, the connection we had, the relationship we shared. No one else will ever truly want to know where I am at any (or every) given minute, or what I wore to my meeting, or how long it’s been since I heard from my long-ago ex-boyfriends. No one else will ever accept me the way she did while simultaneously questioning me and challenging me every step of the way. No one else can ever be Mom, and my life will never be the same without her. Some parts are irretrievably lost, and some, incomprehendably, seem to be just starting. I long to let go, to release every bit of my pain and suffering and loneliness and forget how much I need her, but I’m simultaneously desperate to hang on, to hold tightly to every little snippet or memory or memento or person who knew her.
So I try. Every day, another step. Another shoddy attempt to be the kind of mom she was, all the while still trying to work out who I am and what kind of mom I want to be. Another night to try not to think of her as I fall exhausted into bed. Another day to attempt to show my kids that they, too, can go on without her, hoping they don’t notice how miserably I’m failing at that very same task. But it’s all I can do, because I’m here, and she’s not, and all is not right with this world.
Yet it is, because even when she’s not here, she is. Wherever God is, there she is also. Wherever I am, God is. And where God is, lives are changed. Hope is renewed. Failures are redeemed. And broken hearts are comforted, even if they are still broken. Faith remains even where faith was lost. Words still tumble through my brain, making sense and losing it, longing and pushing away.
And somewhere, Mom is smiling. Knowing she’s missed, knowing she still matters, trusting me to eventually get this right. Believing I have it in me. Knowing she put it there in the first place, and now she’s just waiting for me to find it. And probably rolling her eyes, again and again, as I stumble along the way. Just as proud of me as if I’d gotten it right the very first try.