I went to live with my grandmother, who, at 72 years old, took on the task of raising a 5-year-old. The year was 1965, and I was the only one around who lived in such an arrangement. She was a strong, very witty Irish woman. We survived on her social security and what money my Dad would send. She always helped me with my homework, and when she bought me my first pair of ice skates, she let me walk around on the kitchen linoleum. I remember it left marks, but she didn’t care. One Mother’s Day, when I was about 10, I remember she made chicken. I told her I wasn’t hungry and that I missed my mom. She looked me dead in the eyes and in a way I had never seen before. As her eyes began to fill with tears, their clear, green color looked almost exaggerated. Then her voice cracked: “I have a hole in MY heart too!” What I didn’t know was that she had lost her mother when she was only 12. And there it was — validation that it doesn’t matter if you are 5 when you lose her, or 77 when you still ache for her, it’s a primal loss that festers at the core of your soul.
Even as a child, I was always very affectionate and vocal about my feelings. I would smile, look up at her, and say, “I love you Gram.” And she’d say, “It’s reciprocal.” Did she love me? Yes. Was she demonstrative about it? No. But I adored her. She lived to be 89, and it turned out SHE was the one who showed me how to become a strong, independent woman.
So, now at age 53, I consider myself to be blessed to have an amazing group of lifelong female friends whom I turn to when I stlll have the need to be mothered and nurtured. As they now each are slowly beginning to experience the death of their own moms, I’ve been able to be the one they turn to, and it's a role I’m happy to be in. I recently saw a photo and quote by Madeleine Albright that said: “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” I’m with you sister!
I discovered my passion in working in the field of special education. I taught for several years, and for the last 20 years, I have supervised 30 amazing special-education teachers and school psychologists. I was never able to have children of my own, but in a way, I get to “mother” these 30 terrific people.
Having photos of my mom throughout my house and office brings me comfort. It’s a visual and emotional reminder that she was the most important connection I’d ever have. The beautiful thing about photos is that it freezes a moment in time that will never be recreated. I recently placed her high-school senior photo next to mine, and was amazed at the similarity of not only our features, but the expression on our faces. Here we were, two women at the same age on film, but destined to live out completely different life journeys.
I miss her every day, and days like today are harder than others. There are times when I see a little girl about 5 with her mom, and I still feel a tug in my heart. I’d like to think she can see me and all that I have accomplished in my life and the woman I’ve become. I believe you should always let the people you love know how you feel since living in the moment is all we truly have. Having traveled the long road of loss, and sharing my story with others, it warms my heart when I’ll say to my friends, “ I love you," and they reply, “It's reciprocal!”