It hit me when I held the door open for the sweet, little lady. “Thank you, darlin’” she said. I smiled and watched her walk slowly to her car.
I wanted to follow her, open the car door for her, load the groceries into her trunk.
But her image had become blurry though my tears.
I whispered, “I miss being a daughter.”
Of all the things I have been, of all the hats I have worn, being a daughter was the constant.
Until one day.
I had an idyllic childhood. Almost every weekend of my youth was spent at our fishing camp on Grand Isle. My father and brother would be on the water at first light, leaving mother and daughter ashore. We filled the sunny days collecting shells on the beach or running crab traps in the surf, and the cloudy ones playing cards or assembling a puzzle. And talking. Always talking.
I didn’t realize during my teen years just how special my mom was. But my friends did, showing it by the hours they spent in her company.
When I moved away as a young bride the telephone kept us connected, and despite the outrageous cost of long distance in the 1980s, my husband never complained. He knew our bond was strong.
She doted on my children when they came along, even braving the delivery room when my firstborn arrived. I could not have imagined that experience without her.
I promised my father I would take care of her when he prepared to leave this world. And when the doctors told us just a few years later that she had only a couple of years to live, there was no hesitation. She moved in with us. I remember my husband’s words. “What’s the worst thing that can happen? She’ll live ten more years and drive us crazy.” He was close. She was under our roof for eight years, becoming part of every moment of every day.
Perhaps it’s a Southern thing, or maybe I was just overly attached to my mama, but being a daughter was a defining part of my identity. It was the one thing I had been for my entire life.
Until one day.
When I wasn’t a daughter any more.
My grief was eased the lifetime of memories and the promises of my faith. In my heart she was always with me. But my days felt empty. It took me years to identify that void. Once I did, I sought out every opportunity to again feel like a daughter. Like holding open doors for little old ladies.
A few days ago I bumped into a friend – who was shopping with her mother. I didn’t know this, but our mothers had been friends. When she introduced me as “Mary’s daughter,” her mother’s face lit up with the familiar smile of someone who knew my mom. And the empty place in me filled with love and pride and other emotions I don’t even have names for.
For ten years, I thought I wasn’t a daughter any more. All it took was a simple introduction to remind me that I will always be my mother’s daughter.
Happy birthday, Mom.