She calls me for no reason at all, just to catch up. When she knows I’m not feeling good, she always calls and asks what she can do. She listens to my stories and laughs and offers her sympathy and is indignant on my behalf, depending on what I have shared with her. Her favorite tales are the ones about the children—what they have done or said. She is so proud of them and cheers them on from her end of the telephone line.
When she has heard the tiredness in my voice late in the evenings, she won’t say goodnight and goodbye until she has extracted a promise from me that I’m headed straight to bed. I always do because she won’t have peace unless she knows I’m taking care of me.
And I want her to have peace. She’s had enough of the other.
She’s a very strong woman. I didn’t always know this. Once I thought she was quite dependent on her husband, as she rarely went anywhere without him. It wasn’t until after he died that I discovered the strength this steel magnolia kept tucked away all those years. The night before he passed, he told her he wanted her to go out to eat every day so she wouldn’t be in the house all alone, day and night. She’s kept that promise except when it is too cold or storming. She makes it to the gym most days, and at 84 looks nowhere near her age. When she smiles and calls my name, I’m young again. Always.
She loves me, and she listens and shares her thoughts when I ask. She gets upset when she thinks I’m not taking care of me. She makes me weep as she loves me with a mother’s love.
But she is not my mother.
And I am not her daughter.
But I love her all the same.
We’ve been over some bumpy roads, she and I. I was a young woman learning what being married was like and she was a mother learning what it was like to share her only child. All of that is water under the bridge now, as my heart aches when my mind wanders and I worry about her health.
Two years ago I lost my Mama, and she lost her son. It was a heartbreaking year for both of us. She reached out to me and took my hand after my Mama passed. And after her son took his last breath, she asked me to be there, a part of the journey of saying goodbye.
I was honored. And humbled.
I cannot replace her son. She can never be my Mama. But when I am missing my Mama and lingering over a particular memory, she listens and loves. And when she tells me how she takes a dyed Easter egg in a little basket she’s crafted out to her son’s grave—because he always loved the boiled eggs so—I listen with tears. The grave she visits almost daily represents a broken heart for both of us—for different reasons and separated by years, but we can remember and share. And love.
Not all of our stories and visits are about loss. We share a love of the girl who won both of our hearts from the moment she took her first breath. We share laughter and memories of Christmases and trips to Florida and folks we know in common. She loved my homemade pizza and her homemade ambrosia is one of my favorite holiday dishes. Still. She celebrates the new path I’m on, and she tells me so quite often. I celebrate the woman she is, how she is embracing life after the worst losses imaginable, and I tell her how amazing she is.
We laugh and we cry.
Something we weren’t always able to do.
Life has given us both something precious. Grace.
That’s the key to our relationship and to being a Mama too, I think.
The grace we give each other.
The grace we give our children.
The grace we give ourselves.
To love. To make mistakes. To move beyond.
Each year, this woman who was once my mother-in-law and is now one of my dearest friends sends me a Mother’s Day card. It always makes me cry. Happy tears. Tears of letting go. Tears of thanksgiving.
I am loved. Grace says it doesn’t matter how we found ourselves in this place. It just matters where we are and that we love with our whole hearts.
Wishing you all grace and the chance of starting over and moving beyond. To a place where you love and find yourself loved. By the most unlikely of people.
Love to all.