Someday you’ll be old enough to understand that you have a grandmother you don’t know — the woman who is my mother.
You’ll notice I said “is” instead of “was,” because she’ll always be my mother, just as I’ll always be yours. But you won’t get to meet my mom and for that I am sorry. Sorry for you, sorry for her, and sorry for me.
Sometimes I try to picture the two of you co-existing, but that process is like making you come in the house when you’ve been playing outside. That is to say, it’s painful and nearly impossible (I have to drag you in kicking and screaming).
It’s hard to envision my mom as a grandma. She died in middle age and in my mind, she’s stuck there, young and beautiful, though there was a time when I wouldn’t have used those words; when I would have said strict, sometimes embarrassing. Adolescence is a cruel time to lose a parent. She died when I was coming of age, when my friends could do no wrong and my parents could do no right. I was horribly insecure, hopelessly obsessed with boys, and selfish in all the worst ways. That’s how she last knew me, though she definitely wouldn’t have used those words.
Adulthood and motherhood are stages my mother and I won’t share. That used to make me want to scream at the top of my lungs. Now, I weep from time to time.
You should know that my mom would have been wild about you. She’d have wanted to know every detail about your every waking moment (much like her mom does — your great-grandmother). She would have called you weird names and made you erupt with giggles with her funny faces and groovy dance moves.
Sometimes I worry that as you get older, you won’t have love for my mom because you’ll never meet her. You have enough trouble loving me at times, especially when I withhold Goldfish.
How will you ever love someone you’ll never know?
But then I remember that you’re still just a baby. And I suppose in a way, you do know my mom. You’ve met some of her in me, in your beloved grandpa and uncle; you’ve met her in your nana, great uncle, and great aunt, and in her legion of friends that still feel like family.
You’ve met her in the sorrow her absence has left — in the dark spaces you illuminate, the gaping holes you overflow, the boundless love you’re bathed in, the protection that envelops you. You’ve met her humanity, her humor. You meet her every day, because she’s also in you.
I’ll admit that I’m not a big believer in the spiritual realm. But when you flash that pretty, toothy smile of yours and look into my eyes like you’re holding more joy than you can possibly contain – I can’t help but feel like my mom had to have pulled some strings.
I like to think that even though she’s not here, she’s not quite not here. Does that make any sense? Like in a sense, she’s everywhere. She’s so often in my dreams, in my thoughts and my decisions. She’s part of many a bad day and part of some of the best.
Other days it feels like she is nowhere to be found. When I feel more distant than ever from her though, I try to remember that at one point, we were the center of each other’s universes. At one point, we held each other close and communicated through touch and eventually words that we loved each other more than we could stand.
That’s how it is to have a baby. That’s how is it with you, my baby.
So while you won’t get to meet your maternal grandmother in person, I hope that you’ll eventually feel like you know her. That might sound like a lot of pressure, but I assure you, the pressure’s on me. I promised my mom during her last year of life that if I had kids one day, I would tell them all about her.
“You can tell your kids you had the funniest, coolest mom,” she said, as we spoke about legacy, though we didn’t call it that. She said it with a smile; she was always half kidding.
But it’s true, and it’s a promise I want nothing more than to keep, though it feels much tougher than I thought it would. Even eight years later, my lower lip trembles. Eight years later and writing’s still my refuge.
So how do I begin in making your acquaintance?
I’d like to start by showing you photos of her pretty, toothy smile and sharing things about her, though I admit that I’m still learning. My understanding of and empathy for my mom grows as I do.
I could teach you her name and help you practice how to say it. Liz, Liz, Liz — the name that’s never spoken.
I think you’ll grow to love her like I do, because I do, and because she’s a part of you — a gorgeous part. I know she’s loving you right now because, well, how could she not?
It’s not enough, of course — what remains never is. But it’s what we’re working with.
Love you always,