Mom Without A Mom: What I Learned About Parenting After Losing My Mother

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24 hours after learning my mom had terminal cancer I climbed into my childhood bed at my parents house, wailing. My younger brother and I had gotten the news late the night before and spent the morning steering his ’93 Camry out of New York City, through Connecticut to our home outside Boston, ignoring the Red Sox game that came in and out on the radio. At the hospital my mom let me curl up beside her in her bed, tucking her one arm without an IV around my back. I remember the sun stirring everything in the room up into this ethereal white light. She was only 55.

That night my dad unfolded the chair in the corner of the hospital room into a tiny bed, and my brother and I landed back together at the place where we’d grown up. Our bedrooms were uncharacteristically neat; sheets tucked firm under mattresses, floors clean, cigarette butts no longer hidden in random dresser drawers. It was there that I climbed into my bed and cried, exhausted and in shock. Minutes later my brother joined me, awkwardly teetering his 6 foot 4 frame on the bed next to me. Yesterday our mom had been alive, today she was dying.

“I want her to be at my wedding!” I screamed into my pillow. He patted my arm gently. “She’s supposed to be here when I have kids! Who is going to help me when I have kids?”

It is an awful feeling when the life you expected to have is suddenly snatched away from you. I was certain my adulthood would mirror my mom’s: I would get married and have kids and they would know and love my parents. My mom would be at the birth of my children and she’d brag about her unmedicated births and show me how to do…everything. She’d sleep on the couch of our one-bedroom apartment for two weeks after we brought the baby home, and make me lentil soup, and at some point we’d get in a huge fight because I’d be exhausted and she’d be my mom but then it would be fine because, above all, she was my best friend. She would teach my kids about art and history and nature just like her mom, who was still alive, did with my brother and me. She and my dad would spend winters in Florida, and we’d visit and drink wine and paint watercolors and make fun of the people on NPR. They would grow old but without any serious health problems and they’d still do yoga and swim every day. “Boy,” we’d all say. “Look how lucky we are.”

My mom died 9 months later.

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