Granny was a paragon of patience, never yelling, always volunteering to do more, care more. Even as a great-grandmother she didn’t stop finding ways to parent. When she and Granddaddy started wintering in Spain, she found a nearby tween, Sara, to befriend and tutor, and in future summers sent her to live with me as a pseudo au pair, so we could teach each other our languages and I’d have a person who could carry on more conversation than my 2-year-old twins and newborn.
Each summer, Granny sent her to live with us, and when caring for three babies and a teenager proved too much for me, I’d call my mother.
Mom told me about the time my sisters and I were so sick the pediatrician made a house call. That’s how she knew things were too much for her. She had the flu, three toddlers with fevered seizures, and my father was taking medicine that made him hallucinate. Granny rescued my family without complaint or question. Just as my mother did when I called.
Granny always said “yes.” It was the choice she made the moment she became a parent, to say “yes” unless she absolutely could not. When she said “no,” Mom didn’t question it, she knew there had to be a reason.
Mom told me she tried to be half the mother Granny was to her. I tell my daughters I try to be half the mother Mom is to me.
I called because I needed help being a mother. It had already been a difficult autumn, my sisters were constantly in need of Mom’s help and Granny was once again in Spain for the cold months. But Mom said yes, she always tries to say yes.
Illness and weather delayed her departure. She stayed two states away, waiting out snow storms and viruses, planning to help when she could.
Two days after the surgery, I woke at 3 a.m. to the sound of my phone. An accented young voice full of panic jarred me to consciousness. It was Sara, my Spanish au pair/foster daughter/cousin, calling for help.
Granny had passed away from a sudden heart attack hours before, and Sara needed me to tell my mother.
I stared at my phone in disbelief. That Granny could be dead was improbable, impossible, unfathomable. While I dialed my mother, I wondered, how will I say this? How can I say this?
She answered the phone, groggy but peaceful, ready to comfort an overwhelmed daughter despite the hour.
I wanted to ask her to help me, to tell me how to do this thing. I knew she’d say if there was anyone on earth who could teach me to tell someone their mother had died, it was Granny, and I began to sob.
“Granny’s dead,” I wept. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry.”
As first she didn’t believe me. But as I passed along details from Spain her voice hardened and she got off the phone to call her siblings, leaving me in the dark, two states away, in pain and disoriented and needing my mother.
I needed her not because I was so helpless, but because she was. Because I wanted with all my soul to help her, to do something to make this horrible thing less, to make it easier. Every beat of my heart was a wish to be close, to hug her and hold her hand, and make phone calls and arrangements for transportation and obituaries and whatever it is you do when someone you need dies.
Granny’s disappearance was as sudden and violent as if she’d become a black hole, sucking all the patience and peace and understanding she’d imparted to us into the vacuum she left behind. I needed my mother, because I couldn’t imagine how horrible it must be for her, not to have her mother, at this moment, when the ground fell away.
Over the next month, I mothered. I made sure my children ate and bathed and slept, and did what I could for Mom as she navigated bringing a deceased loved one across the Atlantic. I tried to be the best daughter I could, which meant needing her as little as possible.
But I don’t think needing your mother makes you a bad adult child.
I think the depth of your need in times like this is proof of how good a mother you have. If my mother were not so kind and thoughtful, such a good listener and willing ear, I wouldn’t have needed so badly to hear her voice. If Granny hadn’t been so compassionate, eternally certain of what to do and how and when, it wouldn’t have felt so horribly wrong to attempt the unknown without her.
I hope always to be so needed by my children. To be a constant inspiration of love and acceptance.
I hope when my mother dies, my children ache not just with their loss, but for mine as well. I hope they learn how to love me as a fallible person trying to achieve the impossible – to be half the mother my mother is.
I hope they someday see me the way I see Mom. Her mother’s child.
I hope they always call me when they need help. Especially when they need help being a mother. I hope I always find it in myself to say yes.
Lea Grover is a writer and toddler-wrangler living on Chicago’s South Side. When she isn’t cultivating an impressive dust bunny collection she waxes philosophic about raising interfaith children, life after cancer, and vegetarian cooking. You can find her at Becoming SuperMommy.
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