I lost my mother over twenty-six years ago. One of my dearest friends lost her mother a week ago. I was thirty-four. My friend is sixty-three.
What’s the difference in losing your mother in your thirties versus your sixties?
Really, I have no idea. When my mother left this planet for a better place, I was in a season when I was working hard to separate from her and how I perceived her as needing me to meet her needs. In so many ways, she left too soon. Before I finished turning away from her. Before I was ready to turn back to face who she was, what she did have to give me … what I could safely discover and enjoy in her without losing myself.
In the window of ten days one February, I prayed over my dying mother, received the news that she was gone while on an errand for her, planned and celebrated her memorial, liquidated her home and possessions and returned to my own family in the numb newness of being motherless. But I’d felt motherless for years. Why should it hit me so?
Driving home from the grocery store after restocking my own pantry, I paused at a stoplight and gazed up through my windshield at the blue sky dotted with clouds. “She sees you now, Elisa. She loves you now.” The words came into my heart from heaven itself, assuring me that all things are indeed, eventually, made new. Made better. Made right.
As I prepared to be with my friend this week, I thought back over my mother loss and how my friend was now entering this strange world. She also had navigated a very challenging relationship with her mother: a beautiful woman who also confusingly over-needed her daughter to meet her own needs. My friend has lived longer with her mother than I lived with mine. I have watched her repeat the steps of my separation dance, turning away to become and then back to connect. She has bravely unbraided her mother’s identity from her own, her mother’s definitions of her daughter from the reality of who my friend is and has become.
Unfortunately, the last words this mother said to her daughter were not kind ones. Perhaps they emerged from the side effects of medication or maybe from the declining lobes of her mind. My wise friend took those words and wrapped them in the bubble wrap of clear and truthful therapy and placed them where they belonged. On a shelf far above her where they could not reach her.
In the few minutes before a recent flight, my phone binged with a text from my friend, asking for prayer that she could reach her mother’s side before she passed. For one more hug. I clicked my phone off and rose closer to God in the sky, carrying a whispered prayer with me. When I landed and punched my phone back on, I gasped to read that her mother had died while my friend was en route. She hadn’t made it in time. She hadn’t been able to offer that last hug.
My thumbs hovered over my keyboard as I composed my response. Nearly thirty years after my own mother’s death, yet her pain was so familiar. “I’m so sorry you did not have one more hug here on earth but you will have one more hug one day. A better one. She sees you now. And she loves you now.”
Whether at thirty-four or sixty-three, whether well-loved or less-than-well-loved, when we lose our mother we find something new and needed: the ability to see her for who she was then … and for who she is now.