May 8, 2021

In Honor of all the Motherless Daughters.

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Well, you’ve almost made it through another Mother’s Day.

The glaring reminder that you no longer have a mother. The day that underlines the fact that you are a motherless daughter.

That sounds so harsh—you no longer have a mother—but the realization is stark. Look around you. Other daughters are planning what they might do for their mothers. There will be flowers. Brunches. Hikes in the foothills for those more athletic moms. There will be sweet words written on gushy Hallmark cards.

I am a motherless daughter too. I have been for 30 years. My mother died when I was 40.

Preparing for this day seems to come with a tendency to mine the depths of our memories. We remember the fun times we shared with our moms. We remember the ways in which she was our protector. We smile at how proud she always was of every one of our achievements, no matter how small they were.

Or, we remember the troubling relationship we had with her. The fights. The push and pull of navigating this most intimate relationship.

For some, there are traumatic memories around our reflections of our mothers. Maybe those memories haunt us, cause us to seek therapy, cause us to work hard our whole lives, just to become whole women.

If we are mothers ourselves, we bring the lessons we’ve learned from our mothers into our own mothering.

Mom was too strict, too controlling. She didn’t show emotion. I felt abandoned. She didn’t prepare me properly for what I would face as an adult. She didn’t trust me. 

You get the point. Whatever it is that we hated about the way we were raised is the thing we avoid as we raise our own children.

Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll make all the same mistakes our mothers made with us.

Some of us were blessed with mothers who seemed perfect in our eyes.

The single mother who moved heaven and Earth to make sure her daughters got every opportunity she didn’t. Those rare women who got to be stay-at-home moms, who raised their daughters with love and finesse. Those moms who simply had a supernatural instinct to be an awesome caregiver, a wonderful role model.

There is this other thing about being a motherless daughter. We miss all the things we won’t ever be able to share with our mom. And we grieve these losses.

Those gravely textured, missing pieces are different for each of us, depending on how old we were when we lost our moms.

For some, it may be that she will never be with you at your graduation, your wedding, the birth of your own children. Or maybe you miss that simple act of your mom braiding your hair or helping you choose your clothes for school. Telling her about your first crush. Maybe it’s the heart-to-hearts that are only shared between a mother and daughter. Perhaps you grieve that she missed the birth of her grandchildren.

We move through those heart-wrenching times when we just want to pick up the phone and call our moms. We see that guy on TV who we used to laugh at together; we reach for the phone. We can’t remember an ingredient for a recipe; we reach for the phone. We just need some mom advice. We want to call her, but we can’t—she’s no longer here.

No matter what our relationship was with our mother when she was alive, we carry her legacy with us in whatever we do, whoever we become.

Today, I raise my glass to all the daughters who are without their mother, and I leave you with this beautiful excerpt from a book by Joy Edelman, appropriately called Motherless Daughters

May it bring you some peace:

“Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture, and Muir Woods is no exception. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.

This is what I mean: in the redwood ecosystem, all seeds are contained in pods called burls, tough brown clumps that grow where the mother tree’s trunk and root system meet. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by firewhen, in other words, she diestrauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones.

The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.”

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