A Looming Anniversary


A Looming Anniversary


Tomorrow marks 39 years living without my mother.

Through the years I’ve learned to approach this date with more tempered grief than the year before. I’ve allowed myself to displace my sadness with joy for other occasions sharing this date, like friends’ birthdays, school performances and the small gifts that appear on that day. And as time accrues and distance from this life changing event grows, I’ve learned to shake paralysis free and live on, laugh and love the many wonderful people in my life. Its been years since I’ve felt lost without my mom. I’ve adjusted “well,” as well as anyone can. I can look back to pleasant memories with fondness now, rather than regret.

Until today, two periods of my life have been particularly difficult to navigate as a motherless girl.

The first was my childhood, of course. Childhood and adolescence are challenging periods to navigate for most people. For me, I came to depend on my father and grandmothers, who enriched my world with pure love. These 3 most important people showered me with love and equipped me with the qualities that would form me as an individual. That’s all really. I never questioned their love for me and their desire for me to grow to be a successful, loved and loving woman. My grandmothers were very different from one another. And as I think of their beginnings, maybe they aren’t really so different after all. Lizica, my mother’s mom, lived in a rural Romanian village with only outhouses. Married to a Hungarian dentist, she took the persona of a sophisticate, betraying any truth of her humble origins. She was dignified to the end and imbued me with an appreciation for classic elegance.

My Iraqi grandmother, Farah, fled Bagdad, Iraq following her children to the US, to be surprised that her oldest son was married with a child, me. Her personal aesthetic embraced a sexier, funkier representation measured with a hefty dose of street smarts.

And my father, handsome, proud, loving, stoic, unwavering protector of his children.

My mother, who I lost at the age of 10, was so many things, an intelligent and classic beauty who spoke 7 languages, was a self taught engineer and an intriguing, seductive woman. For years my path to womanhood was set from memories of her digging in the dirt planting marigolds to repairing everything in our home to glamorous model in 6” platforms beneath her own handmade gowns worthy of a Hollywood actress.

If my development would be represented as a recipe, I was 3 Cups of memory of mom, 2 Tablespoons Lizica, 2 Tablespoons Farah and 1 Quart my father. In these people and in these relationships I turned for guidance, love and strength. From these people my confidence grew and I was able to become a self assured, functioning adult.

The second period in my life where my mother’s absence reared its head was the birth of my first child. Becoming a mother without a mother is simply put, tough! I would tell myself, to make myself feel better, that at least no one was telling me how I was doing it all wrong. And my salvation came from those people who told me I was doing things right. Most of this positive messaging was delivered by people who hardly knew me. Our doula, a mom’s group facilitator, the bookkeeper at my then husband’s workplace. I am so thankful that these people crossed my path. They saved me. And I hardly think that they are aware of the weight that their kind, validating words had in keeping me moving forward, believing that I could be a mom.

As you all may know, life is a jumble of well laid plans and happy and sometimes unexpected, devastating accidents. And we stand up, brush ourselves off or sometimes pat ourselves on the back and start all over again. Success is truly an outlook. I choose to take that jumbly mess and be happy about it rather than blame it for my displeasure and disappointment.

In my early adulthood, I quickly figured out how unattractive and unappealing wallowing in one’s disappointment is. And while I can bitch and moan better than anyone I know, I’ve learned to own up to my faults, successes and failures choosing to embrace the diamonds discovered over the coal to soil my soul.

Today, as I approach 39 years without my amazing, dynamic, gorgeous, fierce and brilliant mother, I miss the tenderness that only a mother can give. I am missing the deeply felt questions, “how does that make you feel?,” “are you happy?,” “is there anything I can do?” and those affirmations: “I think you’re doing the right thing,” “you are on the right path.”

Years ago, my father took me aside and we had a conversation that noted the pivot in our relationship. He asked me, “Sarah, when is the party going to end.” I responded with “I hope it never ends.”

I had been back home for a friend’s wedding, staying out late with old college friends and squeezing in visits with family members. Having done his job of raising my sister and I with a love that worked to make up for a missing mother, with devotion to his girls at a cost to his personal life, he was ready to see results. He has been waiting to see us live a life that he had envisioned for us. A life where we are successful in the ways that he measures success. Success for him is to see his daughters married with kids who are on their way to Ivy league colleges, with large homes with 2 car garages and a driveway.

When he would come to visit, he couldn’t hold back on why we would have a scrappy vintage sofa. He couldn’t see past the few rips to the exquisite embroidered silk upholstery and how walking to dinner, coffee and grocery far outweigh any advantages of suburban life.

My father’s disappointment in the broken family that we experienced with the loss of our mother has now turned to disappointment over his own daughters’ broken families. Two daughters, each divorced or divorcing, scraping together each day to navigate this jumbly world with hearts open to possibility and positivity, blind to the imperfections we overlook each day to maintain our sanity in the most difficult space of parenting and prioritizing the overwhelming magnitude of decisions that move us through this life.

And now our father has projected this frustration and dissatisfaction with how his children’s lives have “turned out.” He has gone from encouraging us to undermining us, where every conversation is loaded with land mines positioned to call us out for our poor decision making.

And its now that I find myself, once again, after 39 years, really missing a mom.

And just the other day, a beautiful thing happened. Sabine, my mother’s best friend from their birth town of Pechka, Romania, called to see how things are going. And he asked me, “Sarah, how are you sweetie?” “How are things going with the divorce?” “Are you dating?” And with each answer, I could feel that he was really listening and he responded with words like “That’s ok.,” “You sound good.” “That’s ok sweetie.” “I love you honey.”

And it occurred to me that my mother left a seed in some people that was blossoming and coming back to me. And this wonderful, gentle man, who I’ve known all my life, was saying the words to me that I believe she would be saying, if she were here. And I told him about this epiphany, that my mother was speaking through him and that those words were exactly what I needed and I thanked him. And he told me that he thinks of my mother every day and that he sees my mother in me, even though he hasn’t seen me in 15 years. He hears her in my voice and in my passion and in my conviction to pursue a happy, healthy life for myself and my boys.

And it was in that conversation that I was reminded that no matter how tough life is that I have yet to concede my convictions to how I intend to live my life and yes, the party hasn’t ended, the party has just gotten underway. And I think my mother would be really proud.

Sarah Shaoul