Luke 2:51: “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”
I didn’t expect motherhood to hurt so much. My children are now ages 15, 13, and 4. Tonight, I was putting my daughter to bed, watching the moonlight slowly wash over her body, and thinking about how blessed I am to be a mother. And yet, the memory of my own mother, bridging these bittersweet moments, made my heartache even deeper for the time we never had.
The last time I saw my mother was in mid-December of 2020. I had learned that my step-father had passed away the month before, and I received my first phone call from her in nearly 7 years. I can’t begin to describe in detail how our relationship came to be that way in this post, but it’s something I had to come to terms with all my life. She did things her way.
I thought it was hard to see my Dad on the streets, but meeting my mother for that first time, knowing that she had never met my daughter, her granddaughter, just broke me inside all over again. But that day we met wasn’t about me. It was about my role as a bridge to deliver my step-father’s ashes, her former husband and partner, back into her arms. I was afraid to do this alone.
My husband stayed back to watch our youngest, and I asked my oldest son if he would join me. He agreed. As we parked the car and walked over to Liliha Bakery, I felt unsure about bringing my son with me. What if this was to much for him? Maybe I should just have him wait at the car? As we approached the front entrance of the bakery, I told him it was alright if he wanted to stay further away.
“No Mom, I want to stay with you,” he responded.
I noticed a woman sitting outside the front entrance, her back turned towards me, wearing a straw brimmed hat, short gray hair sprouting out from underneath. She looked so small.
I walked up to her, and softly called out, “Umma?”
She turned around, a mask covered her mouth and nose, and her body responded to my call. It was my Mom. She looked into my eyes and the familiarity of her face brought tears to my eyes. I fought them away, reminding myself that the reason for her call wasn’t because of me, it was because of my step-father.
I closed my heart.
“Mom, I have him here,” I said. I opened up my bag, gently pulled out my step-father’s ashes, and placed him in her hands. She pulled him into her chest, held him, and started to cry. I didn’t know what to do except say I’m sorry.
I looked down, avoiding her eyes, and quietly took in the moment by listening to her pain. I noticed my Mom’s feet. Her heels were dry, white, and cracked. Her toenails appeared to be yellowing, split, dark specks on her big toenail.
I felt my heart breaking again.
She had always been so careful with her feet. It reminded me of those days when I would sit with my Dad on the streets, noticing the pain he wore on his feet. I felt the pain for my Mom at that moment, wishing that our past and circumstances could have been different, as if I could have somehow prevented it.
I looked up and she was starting to calm down a little. She asked how my family was doing, and I looked over to our side, where my son was standing about 10 feet away. He must have known to give us space. My Mom asked who that was, and I responded, “That’s your grandson.”
I waved at him to walk over, nodded, letting him know that it was okay to come. We both watched him walk towards us, and my Mom couldn’t believe how tall he had gotten. He was a young man. The last time she saw him he was just 7 years-old. I could feel my heart pulling inside of me, seeing the two of them in the flesh at the same time.
She looked up at him. And then she looked over at me and asked, “Is it okay if I give him a hug?“
I couldn’t hold back anymore. I cried out, “Yes, of course you can.”
She leaned in and wrapped her arms around him. I wished so badly that my Mom could have been more present in my life. I wished she could have been more stable, so she could experience the deep love, kindness, and nurturing devotion that comes from our family. I prayed to God for a family ever since I was a little girl, and it hurt so much that my own parents couldn’t be a part of it. It hurt that I had to leave a family, to be in a place where I could build my family.
Becoming a mother hurts. As we began to say our goodbyes, in those short minutes that we were together, I watched her as she walked away from me and my son. When I was little, I could never hang-up the phone on my mother. I always wanted more time, more love, more affection, more attention, more of her. I feel like I never got enough of her in my life.
The further she walked away from me, the more my heart began to rip open, and I felt all 35 years of my life as her daughter, come crashing down on me. She was leaving me again. I wanted to fall, but my son saw right through me. And he turned to me, caught my eyes, and held me in his arms. He said, “Mom, it’s going to be okay.”
As we stood there together, watching my Mom, his grandmother, crossing the street, she turned her head one last time and nodded. It felt like she was setting me free. I wasn’t just her daughter anymore, I was a mother of three. And that is who I am today. My greatest joy and blessing has been building a family with my husband, and being able to look back at all that pain, and remembering that God heard my prayers when I wished with all my heart for a family.