Four Months Along, Four Years Gone


November 2, 2012 by 8junebugs

Dear Ma–

It’s four years today that you’ve been gone. I would’ve been okay — last year, I was pretty okay — but this year…

This year’s different.

This is the year you were waiting for.

Well, technically, 2013 is the year you were really waiting for. A granddaughter in January and a grandson* in April! At this rate, you could at least imagine catching up with Uncle Steve in the grandchildren column in, like, five years (don’t count on it). And 2014 is probably going to be even more fun. Babies, babies everywhere, and this time, they’re ours.

But this is the year when I probably would’ve needed you most.

Next year, you would’ve had all kinds of advice from 30+ years ago that I would have had to politely dodge. No, we’re not supposed to let newborns sleep on their tummies anymore. No, we’d rather not use formula if we can avoid it. Yes, I know, cloth diapers were WAY harder when you were a new mom. Yes, I remember about using frozen french fries to soothe teething gums.

Me and Ma, circa 1981 (I think), outside the Great Escape

This year, I’m dealing with countless medical practitioners and administrators, 65% of whom are awesome and 35% of whom make me want to call my mom and complain about how awful it is to be bad at your job when your job is to help overly hormonal people whose jeans don’t fit anymore. “First-time parents are the worst,” I imagine them saying. Well, so’s your office staff. (They are very, very nice. They’re just also kind of awful.)

Next year, we probably would’ve been able to get you out here — babies will get visited, even if their parents will not. You’d have talked about maybe moving back out here, which would have been a disastrous idea, but we would have played along, because BABIES. We would’ve known, too, that putting you closer to your grandson would also take you away from your granddaughter, and we all know that wouldn’t happen.

You thought the 500 miles between Cornwall and DC would be too many with a grandbaby in the mix; “I don’t want to just be a picture on the wall,” you often said. Yet, here we are.

This year, sharing the news would’ve been a lot easier, because it would’ve been your news, too. Much like when we told Graham’s mom, we could’ve just let you in on the secret, then taken the dog out for a walk while you called everyone in your address book, as is right and proper. As weird as it isn’t for me to share things via the internet, your role as my bullhorn — which was your privilege as a mom and your duty as a cosmetologist — made announcements more personal, even when folks didn’t hear it from me. (And no one would have been happier for you than Uncle Steve.)

It’s one of those things you don’t think about until it happens, but…damn. Without you or Memere around, Ma, news moves through the ranks so slowly! And as much as I love every member of my family, I can count on one hand the number of relatives I could comfortably call up for a convo about my uterus. (Dad’s probably not on that list, but I do it anyway. No one said being the last parent standing was easy.)

This year, I could use a mom to tell me that it’s okay that I only cry at ultrasounds and the seemingly gargantuan task of managing a full-time job, a full-time life, and a full-time pregnancy. I don’t even do that much; I can’t fathom trying to knit or sew or run right now…or stay up past 9 pm. I am tired and somewhat bewildered, and we’re not even halfway to the starting gate.

So to speak.

This is the year when excited coworkers, knowing I moved out here fairly recently, will ask, “Where’s your mom? Can she be here when you have the baby?” Well, no, actually, and I still haven’t gotten the hang of how you’re supposed to say that your mom is dead. My instinct is to say “died,” but “passed away” is more delicate and seems to be easier on the other person.

It’s been four years. You’d think I’d have figured that one out by now, but it feels awkward every time.

In a lot of ways, it’s really not that bad, Ma. I’ve got Graham, and I’ve got LadySupport from coast to coast. I’ve got amazing aunts and cousins and old friends and new friends and friends’ moms and helpful colleagues and Graham’s mom (who remembers when you two talked in the ’90s about what cute babies we’d make — don’t pretend it didn’t happen). I’ve got data and books and blogs and the conviction that comes with being a woman in her 30s who’s pretty goddamned sure of herself most of the time. Even so…

Even so, it’s not the same as having your mom around.

Grandmothering: Grand with KidBrother on his 1st birthday, 1983

I think the idea of missing out on this was even harder on you, though, than it is on me today. Four years ago, whether you admitted it or not, you knew you wouldn’t be here for the “I’m in labor” call. Your doctors may have pulled some of their punches, but they never lied to you. You knew you’d miss your grandkids’ first words, first Christmases, first birthdays, and first broken hearts. There would be no concerts or plays or graduations, no pictures to show off in the shop. You wouldn’t get to buy the “When Mom and Dad say no, ask Grandma!” shirt. You wouldn’t know them, and all they would know of you is what we could tell them when they were ready.

When we are ready, too. Some days, like today, it’s hard to know where to even begin.

It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that you would have missed some of those things anyway. The way KidBrother and I were raised — surrounded by family, within easy walking or driving distance for all celebrations — was never going to be realistic for my kid. You knew I wasn’t planning to live in Vermont again, and I don’t think it would’ve surprised you when we decided to move back to California. But I would’ve had to face the interminable guilt of keeping a whole country between you and your grandson. (Dad can Skype; your house may still be stuck with dial-up, if anything.)

And what’s weird about remembering that, about knowing that we would have had to negotiate holidays and vacation time, remembering what that did to our family in the long run, makes this harder by…not making it harder. Sometimes the hardest thing about you not being here is that it makes some things simpler. Definitely not better, but simpler. Less complicated.

Admitting that really, really sucks. The trade-off — less complicated logistics for less time with you — could not be less worth it. But it also means that the worst part of missing you, this year, is knowing what you’re missing out on now and what our son will miss out on in the years to come.

You really would have had a blast with this.

I love you, Ma. I hope he gets your athletic ability, your work ethic, and your sense of fun.


P.S. It’s a boy. Probably. There’s about a 1% chance that they’re wrong — if so, we’ll find out in a couple of weeks.


14 thoughts on “Four Months Along, Four Years Gone

  1. Dev says:

    Tears. It’s been just over that long since my mom was diagnosed, and even though we’re fortunate enough that she’s still winning her fight so far, I literally don’t go ONE day without thinking about how it will be after she’s gone. Almost as if I’m trying to get used to how it will feel, though I know that’s impossible, to lessen the shock of it when it happens. I think of the things she’ll miss. I think of all the times I’ll want to call her. A friend of mine who’s in her 50’s recently got some good news and though her parents have been gone for years she thought “I wonder at what point we stop wanting to call our mom”. I’m thinking, never.

    I’m so sorry your mom won’t get to meet her grandson, but I’m happy for the quadruple shot of joy that little munchkin is going to bring to your life. Sending you love, Jen.

    • 8junebugs says:

      Oh, Dev…I hear you. I don’t think we ever stop wanting to call. That was the grief that sideswiped me for weeks in 2008 — I was so used to calling Mom on my way home from work, and all of a sudden I had nothing to do but commute. I was pretty well braced for most of what happened (even this bit, actually), but I did NOT see that one coming.

      No day but today, right? Each new day is one your mom’s not going to miss. Sending you much love back, and sending your mom hope and strength for the ongoing battle.

  2. Sarah (Harcourt) says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jen. It must be really tough and bewildering. It’s awesome that you have the courage to write about your experiences and what they mean. You’re my favorite “inherited” cousin and if you need anything (cough knitted goods) let me know! Love.

    • 8junebugs says:

      Back at you, sister, and thank you! If I’d known years ago how much fun y’all are, you never would’ve gotten rid of me. 😉 (I probably would’ve kept my voice in better tune, too; one never knows when the Harcourts will break into song — one only knows that they will.)

      As a fellow knitter, I must say that knitted goods are ALWAYS welcome.

  3. Jen says:

    I was just thinking of you and your Mom. I’m moved and emotional from your writing but so excited for you because I didn’t know you were pregnant (I don’t know if I should have). Congratulations. How wonderful.

    • 8junebugs says:

      Thank you, my friend. Seeing your face at her memorial service…that was an unexpected gift.

      And I don’t know if you “should” have known, but I’m glad you do now! I’m shooting for natural + hospital; I know you had at least one of yours at home — your labor stories or advice are most welcome.

  4. Amy says:

    Jen, this was so moving – made me cry. Also, despite the fact that you mentioned multiple times about “a boy/grandson”, I still was slow to realize that you must have learned that you’re having a boy until the ps. 🙂 Lots of love to you – I empathize with missing one’s mother.

    • 8junebugs says:

      Thanks, Amy! I’m glad I put that p.s. in, then. 😉

      Lots of love back to you, and Kath and the kitties. I hope…well. That’s a note for another day.

  5. Gloria says:

    Dear Jen – I think my sister can speak to this better than I, but my advice is – lots of pictures, lots of stories. Keep your mother’s story alive for your child. I was lucky to have Matt when my mom was healthy and vibrant; my sister, 20 years later, gave birth only to have our mom pass when Jordan was 1 1/2. Although he has no actual memory of her, we tell the tales, we laugh about her ways, we continue the traditions – for him. And it works – he has such a sense of who she was, and her great capacity for love and family.
    I weep for you because this IS the time you want your mother most – if you can quantify it at all. I’m sure you know that she is watching you with great joy. XO

    • 8junebugs says:

      Thank you, ma’am. It took me longer than it should have to realize how lucky I was to grow up knowing all of my grandparents and a couple of my great-grandparents. That my kid’s experience will be so different from mine is still a puzzle I’m working out (and this helps).

  6. Lynda says:

    I have been thinking about you a lot today. I admire you for be able to write this – it’s hard. I wish I could say I don’t know what you are going through but, now I do. One thing I know is that your Mom would have been so happy and so proud of you! Sending you a huge hug and lots of love! – Lynda

    • 8junebugs says:

      Even with a little time and a lot of distance, it’s still pretty hard. That’s one of the big, ugly differences in writing about this four years later–too many of my friends can relate. So many of us have lost parents in the last couple of years, and it always feels like it’s too damn soon.

      She would have been pretty happy, though. 🙂 Love you!

  7. Kelly K says:

    Dear Jen,
    This was beautifully written and made me cry, which I don’t easily do. My mom passed away Dec 16, 2002 and my daughter was born exactly 5 yrs later on Dec 17, 2007. Now we’re coming up on her 5th birthday and 10 yr anniversary of mom’s death. At least I now have a happy distraction at what used to be a sad time. It is a bittersweet thing to raise your child without your parents around – my dad has beem gone many years too. And they SO would’ve loved being grandparents. And I think how much my little one doesn;t even realize she is missing by not knowing them.
    This past year we started a neat tradition of buying a single helium balloon in my mom’s favorite color on what would’ve been her birthday. Wrote happy wishes and smileys and her name on it, went to park, hugged it and let it go up to heaven where she is. You will find ways to let your son know what your mom was like – keep up the important special things you did with her when he is a little older.
    Good luck and hope you have an easy rest of your pregnancy!

    • 8junebugs says:

      Thank you, Kelly–I love your tradition! There really are too many of us in this club, aren’t there? I grew up thinking everyone knew all their grandparents and saw them all the time. Little did I know…

      I sometimes wonder how our kid will even have the context to grasp some of the stories I can share. I’m going to need a glossary to explain to an urban kid what a haymow is, what “crosslots” means, and why buying a house with a sewer already in place is so awesome.

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