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Personal Essays | Motherless Day

By Deborah Marshall

It’s Mother’s Day, and I feel a strong desire to write about my mom. About losing my mom. I know it is heavy and depressing and grim. But indulge me. My mom’s dead…it’s the least you can do. 
 
Sorry. My brother and I tend to do this. We make “dead mother” jokes. To keep it light. To show people that we are okay. We are okay. Our world was devastated, but we keep living and laughing. Isn’t that what Barbara would want? God, I miss her sense of humor and her laughter. Her jokes. Her voice. 

 
I lost my mom on October 10, 1999. It changed me. Changed my world. I don’t talk about it much. I talk about my mom but not her death or its impact. Losing her was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I was 24. She was 56. Now, at almost 43, those numbers stop me in my tracks. 24. 56. I was so young. So naive. She was so young, too. I truly thought we were both so old and had lived a long, good life together. I had no idea what it would be like to be a motherless adult woman, a motherless wife, and a motherless mom. A motherless daughter. I really didn’t have a clue. Why would I? Nobody does. Unless you’re in this stupid club, you don’t know either, no matter what your age. This unwanted “wisdom” comes with your membership card. 
 
Mother’s Day. For the first five years, it was quite miserable. I didn’t have a mom, and I wasn’t a mom. I saw the commercials and cards and felt this day was just a big fat reminder of what I didn’t have. I would stay inside all weekend because it hurt to see people out celebrating with their moms. 1999 was the last Mother’s Day with my mommy. Her cancer diagnosis came right around that time. I remember she gave ME a Mother’s Day card that year, thanking me for all of my help. It was not a good time. Scary. Unknown. Painful. Even after becoming a mom, my heart just couldn’t “celebrate” Mother’s Day. I faked it for my kids and husband. I still don’t care for the day, or care too much about it. I feel loved every day; I’m good. It has become my “pity party” day, and I hate that. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I am usually glad when it’s over. 

 
I heard Whoopi Goldberg describe losing her mom once, and what she said was exactly how I’d been feeling for so long, but couldn’t identify. She talked about missing her mom’s love. And that was it. Precisely. I missed being THAT loved. THAT important to someone. THAT special. Think about it… my kids are my everything. They really are. I miss being someone’s everything. It sounds a little selfish, but it’s not—it is purely about being loved. A mother’s love is that powerful, and it was taken away from me too soon. I still need it. I’ve always carried on feeling so blessed that I felt that love for 24 years. It gives me great solace. It is not always a guarantee. Some people have a living mother and don’t know that love. I knew it every single day of my life. How amazing is that? I’m so lucky. Grateful. That’s why it felt like we had a good, long life together. We had enough good to last me a lifetime. I still wish I had more. 

 
My mom died the Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend. I wasn’t prepared. She’d been sick since May, but I didn’t actually know she was going to die until the day before. I spent that whole weekend in a fog. People were in and out of my house; I barely noticed. I had spent five months in the trenches of this brutal disease. Now it was over, and there was nothing left to do. I had been doing so much that if felt strange. I don’t even know who was there. Such a blur. All I know is we were surrounded by loved ones and that meant a lot. We were not alone. YetI was the only daughter there, watching my mom die. Three of us were there that day watching our mommy die. But my mom was also a wife and sister and aunt and grandmother and friend. She was quite popular. For all the love she gave me she, too, was so loved. My mom was actually adored. I love that about her. I was happy to share her love with others. I knew my relationship with her was special. She had no other daughters, and I had no other mother. People who knew and loved my mom have a very special place in my heart. They help me feel connected to her. 
 
I did some very difficult things during the five months of her illness and after her death. She had taken care of me my whole life and then the roles were reversed. I lived at home during this time while I was beginning my teaching career. I took Mom to chemo and radiation. I filled prescriptions and fed her through an IV. Then came the heartache of buying a cemetery plot and planning a funeral. I can still picture myself standing in her closet picking out her funeral clothes. I shopped for myself, too, and it was surreal to be at the mall watching people act like the world was so normal. Life was going on, but I felt like I was in a dream. A haze. I planned a funeral. Picked out a freaking casket. I’m not listing all of this because I was a hero. Far from it. I wish I had done some things differently, and those are tough thoughts. And I wasn’t alone. We had so much support. Those five months were awful because she was not well, and it was so hard to see her suffer. When she died, I definitely felt relief for her. The cancer was finally gone. Stupid cancer. 

 
My mom was the best of the best. I smile and feel genuinely happy when I think about her. I don’t relate my mom to loss—she is a happy thought—although I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed her in the last 18 years. Pretty much every day. I’m so happy she loved my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time). She would’ve gone crazy over my three kids more than I can even tell you. They would be perfect in her eyes, I’m sure. She would set them straight and spoil them with so much love and Beanie Babies. I’ve had to rely on so many other people in my life to fill the void. My sweet aunt, my mom’s sister, is stuck listening to the minutiae of my life and giving me so much emotional support. I don’t know what I’d do without her. My husband has always been my strength. My father and brothers are so very important to me. We went through it all together, and we are still standing…a pretty amazing family. 
 
One thing that helped me get out of my Mother’s Day funk was realizing I wasn’t alone. So I slowly started to acknowledge this dumb holiday again. I sent cards to other women in my life who have lost their moms. Sadly, over the years, this list grew and grew. The club nobody wanted to join, and I was constantly “welcoming” new members. I’m thinking of you all. Especially if it is your first motherless Mother’s Day. You’re all in my heart.  
 
To all who celebrate: Happy Mother’s Day. 
 
To all who don’t: I get it. 


Deborah Marshall recently moved to Australia with her family of 5 for a six month sabbatical. While there she wrote a travel blog to document their adventures. She is an elementary school teacher in Denver, CO, a twin, wife of a professor, and the mom of 3. Deborah enjoys coffee, reading and sunrises. To see her other blog posts, check out diaryofthetravelingmarshalls.com.

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