I remember the last lie I told my mom.
One afternoon, a couple months before she died, I walked into my mom’s bedroom. She was clearly upset, and she usually kept that part of herself well hidden from me. But that was pre-cancer. Now, she faced her death sentence head on each morning.
As I rubbed her back, she told me her fears. She didn’t want to leave me, my brother, and my dad. She worried how we would manage without her.
I lied. I said, “We’ll be okay.”
I honestly didn’t know it was a lie, but it was.
It was a big, fat lie. A lie that I regret saying. I wish my mom, who had been “unmothered” when she was 17, would have warned me how tough it would be. In hindsight, I see she was trying to tell me that in that moment.
I wish my mom would have told me a lot of things. But we ran out of time.
Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me about being motherless before I lied to my mom.
1. Even though you didn’t get along with your mom, you’re going to miss her for the rest of your life.
My mom and I were never best friends but I knew without a doubt that she loved me. For two years before her cancer diagnosis, I was dating someone my parents didn’t want me to be with. It caused a lot of friction between us. How I wish NOW that I hadn’t spent those years fighting against her.
When she was sick, I knew I didn’t want my mom to die but I thought I would be okay without her. The last 24 years have taught me that 20-year-old me hadn’t the faintest clue of what it meant to be motherless.
2. It’ll get harder before it gets…not quite as hard.
The first hour after she dies will be the worst hour of your life. The first week is the worst week of your life. The first month is the worst. The first Mother’s Day, her first birthday, your first birthday, the first Christmas. The first year is full of first-without-mom worsts.
After you survive the first year without her, you adjust to the pain. It’s not that it hurts less; you just get used to the ache.
Missing her becomes your new normal.
3. It’ll get better, but it’ll never be easy.
There will always be reminders that your mom isn’t here. Anniversaries and Mother’s Days will change from year to year. Some years you’ll sail through them, some years they’ll knock the wind out of you. You can prepare for these days all you want but you’ll never quite know how difficult – or not-so-difficult – they’ll be.
You kinda get used to not knowing how you’ll feel on those big days throughout the year. But you survived the firsts, so you know you can survive these too.
4. Not being able to tell her you’re sorry for being so selfish is just as hard as not being able to pick up the phone and call her whenever you need her.
I was still very much a teenager when my mom died. My mom and I had just overcome perhaps the most turbulent years of our relationship when she got sick. At 20, I was still very selfish when she died and I didn’t truly comprehend how challenging I was to parent until I became a parent myself.
There are so many times when I want to call up my mom and talk to her about how hard it is to parent teenagers. And then I feel bad for never apologizing that I was such a pain in the butt. Part of me knows that she understood, while part of me will always wish I had the chance to tell her my regrets.
5. You’ll need her advice more than you think.
I wish I could have talked to her when I got engaged. How did she know that my dad was the right one for her?
I wish she could have helped me plan my wedding. Who went dress shopping with her? What did she think of my dress?
I wish I would have taken the time to cook and bake with her. There’s more than a few recipes of hers that I wish I had. And to this day, I have never roasted a turkey.
I wish I knew how she felt when she couldn’t breastfeed her firstborn. Did she regret not fighting harder? Does she regret spanking me? What would she have done differently as a parent and why?
So many questions about my childhood. And so many questions for her as I raise my own kids.
6. No one will ever replace your mother but you still need to be nurtured.
This is a tricky one for me. When my mom died, no one stepped in to my life to guide me through the dark valley of early grief.
When I got married, no older female figure who had known my mom was able to support me and share stories of my mom’s engagement and wedding preparations.
When I got pregnant, the only woman who was willing to share her birth story with me was my mother-in-law. And although that was sweet of her, it was the fact that I never asked and she told me (a little too much).
There was no one to tell me how my mother had endured childbirth and the postpartum months. There was no one for me to call in the middle of the night when I was sick again with mastitis.
When my faith grew faint, I had no one step in the gap for me. I longed for my mother.
No one can ever replace her and yet, I still long for a motherly figure to nurture me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
7. You’ll always wonder what she would have thought of ___.
Whether we intend to or not, most of us want others to approve of us, and almost nothing matters more than our mother’s approval. I would love to hear my mom say that I was doing a good job of parenting, even if she wasn’t being completely honest. (LOL!)
8. You’ll actually want to be told you’re like her, at least in some small way.
Teenager Me would be very shocked to hear Adult Me admit this today.
Recently, my dad told me that I reminded him of my mom which was a very high compliment coming from him. My dad adored my mother. I was so stunned, I didn’t have the courage to ask him what he meant for fear of one of us crying. We were in public.
When your mother dies young, a daughter longs to stay connected in some way. For someone who knew your mother to say to you, “You’re just like your mom when you ____,” you feel a little closer to your mom.
9. Movies and TV shows that deal with grief become a love/hate obsession.
You’ll love the parts you can relate to, you’ll hate the parts you disagree with. Somedays you won’t be able to bring yourself to watch a movie about cancer and death, the next day, you’ll binge watch the latest Netflix series on loss.
There seem to be a lot more movies these days that have some kind of loss in them because loss makes a good character flaw.
10. Your own health/potential death can become an obsession.
Motherless daughters know, almost to the day, how old their mothers were when they died. Concerns over the illness that took their mom’s life, if applicable, can take the joy out of life if you let it.
If we do outlive our moms, it’s bittersweet. As much as we do want to live longer than her, there’s some grieving we’ll do if we fail to be like her just one last time.
What about you? What do you wish you had known before your mom died? What do you wish others knew about your experience?