The Mothers I Never Knew

My mother’s mother died when my mother was ten. I knew the woman who stepped into her role and finished raising her children, including my mother. She was a good woman, a good grandmother. Yet there is this other grandmother whom I never knew.

My husband’s mother died when he was eighteen. I never had the chance to meet her. Never got to have a mother-in-law. Never got to have her input into our lives. I know it wouldn’t have been all sunshine and roses, but we would have benefited from the increased complexity. I’ve been thinking of her more lately. Wishing I could talk to her and ask her questions.

My son-in-law’s mother died when he was a baby. I thought of her often as I carefully tried to find my place in her son’s life. Stepping up to be a mother for a person who wasn’t accustomed to having one, without displacing her. Standing beside her empty shoes, not stepping into them.

Three women I never knew, yet their choices and sacrifices shaped three people who I love dearly. The absence of their mother defined each of them in different ways. I would have liked a chance to know each of these women, to hear their thoughts on mothering. Mothering is such a complicated role and I so often fear I’m doing it badly. Yet sometimes it feels like these absent mothers aren’t so far away and that they’re rooting for me from where they sit. Sending me support as I try to help take care of their children. I like that thought, the one where I always have a support nearby, only a soul’s breath away. The network of mothering not interrupted by so small a problem as death.