“Welcome to the Dead Moms Club,” said my co-worker, brightly.
It was my first morning back to work after being out for a few days following the death of my mother. I was 26-years-old.
“Sorry,” she said in response to the stunned look on my face. “Too soon?”
It was. But, also, I knew her intentions were good. She was one of those kind people without a filter. She wanted me to know that she and several other women in our office were members of the same “club” — that I wasn't alone.
Over the years, I've thought about what the members of this club share. I think that if you were lucky enough to have a good relationship with your mom, you know that no one will ever love you the way she did. There’s a pride that moms have in their children, a fascination with the minute details of their lives, that won’t (and probably shouldn’t) ever be replicated.
I remember once, when I was in my early 20s, my mom was coming to take me out to dinner. We were meeting at my apartment in Boston, and I was walking home from work and glancing at the parked cars along the street when I realized she was in one, watching me. I stopped and waved, and she got out smiling and we hugged.
“What were you doing?” I asked.
“I just like watching you be in the world,” she responded.
I think of that moment — which I’m sure bemused me at the time — frequently these days, because it’s just how I feel about my own two daughters. I watched them the other night after dinner as they hit a tennis ball back and forth in our driveway, laughing with and at each other as they took wild hacks at the ball, and it sailed into the woods repeatedly. Their cheeks were red from chasing the ball down and laughing and the chill in the evening air. I lost track of time as I watched them through the window, a dish towel in one hand and a sink full of dishes waiting in the kitchen.
In my imaginary life, my mom was the first person I called when I got engaged.
Another thing I think all us members of the club share, is that there’s this other imaginary life that goes on where our moms didn’t die. In my imaginary life, my mom was the first person I called when I got engaged. She helped me pick out my wedding dress, and we danced together at my wedding — that funny dance she used to do to fast songs. She came to visit me both times in the hospital when I had my daughters, couldn’t believe how beautiful they were. She babysat them and read them stories and tucked them into bed. She’s been at all their dance recitals and soccer games and school plays.
I’m envious of friends whose moms are alive and where generations of women do something together: horseback ride, travel, make meals together.
“My mom would have loved that,” I think to myself. And I wonder what our thing would have been. Not horseback riding — Mom wasn’t an animal person. But I bet we all would have taken trips together, us three generations of women. She loved exploring new places, always had her nose buried in a guidebook to find the next great attraction, restaurant, view. She was a wonderful cook and baker and endlessly patient with me when I was little and wanting to learn and help.
I know she would have been that way with my girls too, decorating Christmas cookies, showing them how to stretch homemade pizza dough, laughing when they dipped a finger into the Crisco, convinced it would taste like marshmallow. I can see us spending a lot of time at the beach — reading a good book by the ocean was my mom’s happy place. She also loved art, music, theater; I bet there would have been a lot of museum trips and performances for us all.
She would have loved seeing my daughters be in the world. She would have treasured the opportunity to get to know them. And she really deserved it. She put up with me all through my teen years, and I was a huge pain. She really earned that grandma time. It will never seem fair to me that she didn’t get it.
I console myself by thinking that I really did have the best mom. While I could have had a perfectly ordinary mom who was around for a long time, instead, I had an incredible one who couldn’t stay long.
It’s not what I would have chosen, but she’s certainly who I would have chosen. Without a doubt.
I’m guessing that lots of members of the Club know just what I mean.