‘Mam’ I whispered. ‘I hadn’t said it in so long. When death takes your mother, it steals that word forever. ‘Mam’ it’s just a sound really, a hum interrupted by open lips. But there are a gillion words on this planet and not one of them comes out of your mouth the way that one does.’ – One Day More by Mitch Albom
Pearl Buck says, ‘Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same . . .’
My mother was not a scolding mother, but neither was she a kissing mother. I think she must have been somewhere in between. She was not into what she termed ‘all that nonsense’ which I understood from an early age to mean kissing and hugging. I think she learned that from my grandmother who was a strict disciplinarian and who I felt all my young life never liked me, and who viewed my fiery spirit as boldness. I remember in my adult years asking a favourite aunt why my granny didn’t like me.
‘It wasn’t that she didn’t like you,’ she replied gently, ‘it was just that you were the youngest, the last, and she felt your mother didn’t need you.’
I felt relieved. Not needed was better than not loved. I never missed the hugs and kisses from my mother. They were not necessary for me to know that she loved me. She was at all times a loving, caring mother who could fix anything from a tile off the bathroom wall to a leg that had fallen off your precious doll. I think I probably spent all my time wishing I was like her. She was young, pretty and witty. I inherited my father’s looks. In a time when money was scarce my mother never needed expensive clothes to look beautiful. In later years when she put on some weight she blamed it all on my generous brother. He had gone to work at a young age and his extra money allowed us the luxury of Taylor Keith lemonade and Tayto crisps on a Friday night in front of our newly acquired television. Life was simple and heaven.
I think I always loved my mother but I didn’t always know I did. It is only now looking back that I know my life was so intertwined with hers and still remains so even years after her death. Now I am ever vigilant of myself and my quirky little habits that so resemble hers. As girls and as women we are ever aware of our mother and our mother’s love. I think there are two occasions when we experience this awareness most; the moment we are handed our own baby, and the moment we stand by our mother’s graveside with the only wish she would never fulfil for us; that she would live again, that she would live forever.
My mother seemed to grow old and die overnight and I grieved the fact that I did not notice until it was too late to do anything to save her. I tried to ease her pain just as she had eased mine as a little girl but I couldn’t because even though I was grown up, I was still her child, and in her eyes she still felt that need to protect me. Even as she was dying she was still trying to save me from unnecessary hurt, but that was impossible because in the end what is worse than losing a mother. As Jamaica Kincaid wrote, ‘My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind. I could not have known at the beginning of my life that this would be so; I only came to know this in the middle of my life . . .’
I think that as mothers we try to do just that for our children. We try to stand between them and the ‘bleak, black wind at their back.’
But how can we save our children from life and living? We try but we can’t or else they will not live. We cannot save them from the ending of a friendship they thought would never end; when their prince finds a new princess or their princess rides off with a new prince and their hope of Camelot disintegrates in pieces just like Arthur’s round table. We wipe their tears bravely telling them that there are better people and things on the way, with just the hint of doubt nagging at our hearts and then we cry and wipe our own tears in the quiet of the night offering our prayers to our Mother in Heaven with a sword of sorrow piercing our own hearts. Motherhood, a state we have all known from some close or distant personal point of view. We have all been mothers or known mothers or have been influenced by a mothering influence. Weren’t we lucky!
For my Mam who died 6th February 1999
© Eithne Reynolds
An excerpt from: My Experience of Motherhood by Eithne Reynolds