Four years ago this month, I held my mother’s hand as she died.
Given her health problems, my sister and I knew it was a matter of time. Just two days prior, the two of us discussed whether she could continue to live alone. We never got that far. She collapsed and later died.
But out of the sadness, our love and respect for our mother has grown deeper over the years. My sister and I believe, truly and deeply, that my mother is still with us. She is no longer suffering and is right where she wants to be – looking down from heaven, more involved than ever in the lives of her children and grandchildren. Some might call it meddling. We call it intervening.
Growing up, I had epic disagreements with my mother. I was the archetypal child who couldn’t wait to go to college and get away from home. She was the original and unequaled helicopter mom. She and I, however, were cut from the same stubborn cloth. They say oil and water don’t mix, but a stubborn mom and a stubborn child sometimes combust.
After I became a mother, we moved toward the relationship I always wanted. We lived seven hours apart, but I called her every day. For two weeks every summer, I brought my children to stay with her. We got on each other’s nerves during those two weeks, but looking back I wouldn’t trade a minute. Sometimes it is not quality time, but quantity time, that makes relationships. It was important for all of us – my mother, my children and me – to have a relationship even if the distance made it more difficult.
Over time, my mother began to open up about her past and we spent many evenings during those visits just talking. She grew up in Italy during World War II, and after the war, joined her father in the United States at age 15 – a year older than my teenager. It is hard to imagine my daughter learning English on her own, and living the hardscrabble life of a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia. What my mother did was an example of how what I interpreted as stubbornness was really a strength few people have.
She never finished high school, but was one of the smartest people I knew in terms of common sense and common decency. She was involved in every aspect of our lives because she cared. Was it annoying and at times intolerable? Absolutely. But looking back, it was her love language. She might not have said the words “I love you,” but she showed it. We often chafed under her restrictions, but there wasn’t a thing she wouldn’t do for us or a fight she wouldn’t lead for us. When we needed help, she was the only person we needed in our corner.
I’m sure there are parenting mistakes she would regret and rectify. I have those, too. But as my mothering journey has continued, I’ve realized we all do the best we can. Was she perfect? No. Neither am I. As mothers, we are our own harshest critics. I like to think, however, that I’ve taken some of the best of my mother – a bulldog protectiveness that bows to nothing – and tempered it a little.
As I’ve gotten older, I see more of my mother in me. I sometimes catch myself sounding just like her, and that’s not a bad thing. When someone accuses me of being just like my mother, I smile. I can only hope.