I was 7-years-old the first time I saw my mother cry. She leaned against the kitchen counter with her face pressed into a gingham tea towel, and I didn’t know what to do because it was my fault she was sobbing. She had returned from the hospital and told me she “lost the baby” and I yelled at her to go find it. I didn’t understand what had happened.
Then my grandmother took my older brother and me to the mortuary to see the perfect baby wrapped in a delicate pink blanket cradled into a tiny white casket. They named her Carol, and I wanted to hold her. Grandma tried to explain how the cord was wrapped around her neck but that just made me mad. My friend’s mother had a healthy baby almost every year and they never strangled at birth. All I knew was that I could hear my mother crying when she thought we were asleep, and I only wanted her to be happy.
For weeks after the funeral I tried in vain to make her smile. Then one autumn day she placed the needle on her well-worn Doris Day record album and sang a few off-key verses of “Que Sera, Sera,” shattering the heavy gloom that had settled like an unwanted, sickly guest. “Whatever will be, will be” became my mother’s mantra, and it sustained her through a life of abundance tempered with physical and mental pain.
Mom worked two jobs while my father was gone building his trucking business. She babysat other children during the day and typed reports for various businesses during the night. I remember being lulled to sleep by the clack, clack sounds and the rhythmic ding of the manual typewriter. When I was four, my mother gave birth to my younger brother but my father was gone driving an 18-wheel truck to California with a load of meat from Montana. He didn’t return for four days because he needed to broker a load of frozen food to bring back. My mother waited patiently for him to return and name the baby. I never appreciated the magnitude of her sacrifices until many decades later.
By then, I too was a mother. I’ll never forget the first moment I felt the faint flutter of my unborn baby. I was alone on a business trip to Logan, Utah, and I silently celebrated and also trembled with fear at the mysterious wonder that grew near my heart. My biggest concern was about the umbilical cord, and even though my daughter was born in critical condition and rushed to intensive care, she rallied and we went home together. The first few months, I got up several times during the night to touch her to make sure she was still there. During those quiet lullabies in the night, I promised to love her and make her happy.
Two years later I was blessed with a son, and again, I got up in the night to touch him. The rhythmic breathing of my sleeping children was nourishment to my soul and offered a cadence that motivated me to take care of them. My daughter and son now have daughters of their own, so they know the intense power of parenthood.
Mom was widowed 25 years ago at age 62, and though she maintained her steadfast attitude claiming “What will be, will be,” I noticed a sadness in her eyes as she slipped into dementia. She is frail and frequently talks of angels and of seeing my dad and her departed sister and friends. I will mourn her passing but rejoice when she is free from her earthly limitations. I envision her running to her lost child and rocking the baby without distraction. Then, finally, she will be happy.