Friday was a very challenging day for my children. The kind of day where you wish you could trade places with your children because their pain is so great. The kind of pain where you’re not quite sure what to say to ease the burden and you pray for guidance.
That was the day that my daughter’s fiancée’s father died suddenly at age 42. No warning. No goodbye. The glue who holds his family together. Someone my own daughter loved and was looking forward to having as a father-in-law. The man who was going to give away my soon to be daughter-in-law in less than two months. A kind, fun, open-minded, bright spirit. Someone who I know would have become a true friend. I did not yet have the pleasure to meet him in person, but we were Facebook friends, and we were looking forward to finally meeting at the wedding. His wife’s best friend. His five children’s role model and rock.
My heart breaks when I think of how the family must continue without him. I think especially of my soon-to-be daughter, and of her fiancée, my own daughter. I think of how surprised some people were that they were getting married at 20. It seems a lot more understandable to be marrying at 20, then to lose your father at 20. Now they are grieving together. Supporting each other. Figuring out how to step into a day without him.
And I am over a thousand miles away, holding my hand on my mouth, wishing there was something I could do to ease their distress. I don’t want my children to have to feel this pain, to have to enter the start of their life together with this hole in their hearts. But of course, it’s nothing I can change.
I hear the news by text. First, a text letting me know they’re on their way to the hospital because something happened. Then, 43 minutes later, two words. “Alan died.” That can’t be real? I text back my love, sorrow, and support. I try calling. No answer. I understand; I have to wait. Later on I get another text telling me, “Will talk later. Love you too.” I wait. I imagine the pain my children are going through. My own heart hurts. I can’t think of anything else. I go through the motions but I’m thinking of my children. What role do I play in this? Should I go to them? What would be helpful to them?
Another one of my children is also having a difficult day, so far away from me. My son is having to make serious medical decisions, weighing advice from different professionals, and then listening to his own intuition. It’s not easy and he understandably struggles under the weight of it all. His situation is on my mind constantly. I give him my advice and then I give him space.
I wonder what I can do or say to help my children. Most of my time is spent doing neither; my intuition tells me I must wait patiently for them to reach out to me. So I become silently consumed with imagining how they’re doing and what they’re feeling, weighed down by how I can actually be helpful when they do reach out. As old as they are, as independent as they are, I am still their Mom, and I feel the weight of that responsibility.
It’s almost the end of the long day when I hear from each one of them. My son shares the medical decision he ended up making, with explanations about how he came to that decision. He expects that I will share concerns. I do not. He wonders if I want to discuss it. I say, “No need. I trust your judgment.” He was expecting a different reaction. He had planned to be responding to something else, and he skips a beat. Then he says, “Thank you for being a great Mom.” I savor that. I’m experienced enough with this parenting thing to know that the next time we speak the interaction may be completely different. I am grateful that I was guided the right way and was able to be the mother he needed me to be.
Later still, my daughter who is grieving texts me, “Hey.” That is her code for, “Can we talk?” I call her immediately, having waited all day for her signal. She has left the family’s house where all are gathering, to briefly go home to her own house to take care of her dogs. I ask a few brief questions to clarify what actually happened, and then I let her talk. She talks and she is silent. I just stay on the line. I am present with her as she greets and feeds the dogs, and takes care of what she needs to do. She alternates between talking to the dogs as their animated parent, and being real with me about how she’s trying to support her fiancée and the family, and how sad she herself feels experiencing this enormous, surreal loss. I want to leave now to come to her, wrap her in my arms, and make everything okay. She seems to indicate that’s not what she needs.
After we hang up, I sit up in bed awake, just thinking. At first I feel heavy, burdened by the weight of being Mom to these children, in their times of need. And there have been so many times of need. But then this completely different feeling washes over me and the word Honor pops into my head. I feel this tremendous gratitude that the Honor of Mom has been bestowed upon me.
Mom is the one whose voice is most powerful in so many of our heads, for better or for worse, as we age. In other families of course it can be Dad, grandparents, or other caregivers. But, historically, when things work typically, Mom is the beacon of light. The one who cures all our first woes, who has all of the answers our young minds ask, and who is our first guide through life. Mom is the one we run to so often, that even as we enter our journey through adulthood, this first mentor of ours has made an indelible impression. We automatically turn to her, seeking her out, whether literally or metaphorically.
And I have been bestowed that Honor in the lives of three human beings. It really dawns on me how powerful a role that is. I sit with it and feel the magnitude.
This new realization stays with me the next day throughout my interactions with each of my three kids. I continually check in with myself to ask, “What would be most supportive right now? What does this person need to hear from Mom?” It’s not always easy. It’s much more natural to go with the gut reaction. But with an honor comes a responsibility. And I realize now how these human beings, whether they want to or not, are organically programmed to feel the weight of MY responses. So I need to think about those responses more carefully.
Will I always give them the answers they crave to hear? No. Will they always understand my positive intention? No. After I finish writing this blog is it likely that one of them will let me know how unhelpful or even harmful they feel a response I make is? Yes.
Hopefully, in those times I will remember the texts that were waiting when I awakened today. In the wee hours of the morning, after I went to sleep, one of my children randomly wrote in the family group chat between the four of us, “I love you all so much.” Another child responded right away,” I love you guys too.” The third chimed in instantly, “Same here” with a heart emoji. Is this the typical way my kids communicate? Not at all. This was something very, very special, not expected. And a gift that I appreciate.
Something else that touches my soul happens just a few hours ago. My daughter changes her mind and asks me to come to Oklahoma. Her fiancée has asked for me, and my daughter needs me also. It is my pleasure. It would be an enormous honor to be considered a Mom by this fourth child, who already holds that place in my heart. These are the best awards I could receive to go along with the Honor of being Mom.