My mother was my best friend. She died 41 years ago but left me a lasting legacy of love. It’s a legacy that she got from her mother…and that I’ve given to my daughter. Four generations of mother – daughter love. How special is that!
I’d like to tell you about it.
I was born in Pleasantville, New York, seven years after my brother and ten years after my sister. People used to comment regularly on how different I looked from them. Whilst they were both dark haired, I was fair. Whilst they both had olive complexions, I was peaches and cream. They used to tease me mercilessly, saying that I was adopted. My mother soon put a stop to that by telling them that I was the only one who was planned.
Our mother-daughter bond grew stronger and stronger over the years, no doubt aided by our shared interests – reading novels, playing Scrabble, going to the theatre, cultivating flowers. She was a woman of infinite understanding, and wisdom. “There is no such thing as the ‘perfect man’,” she told me. “Just be sure that when you find the man who you want to marry, his imperfections are ones you can live with.” Her favourite words of reassurance, “This too shall pass,” were always said with a smile that made the world feel right.
‘Nana’, my mother’s mother, lived with us. I never thought about it back then but my mother’s bond with her mother must also have been a strong one – after all, Nana had other children with whom she could have lived – but she chose to live with us. My brother and sister, being so much older than I, would go off with friends of their own age, leaving me on my own much of the time. With her two older children now being so independent, my mother decided to resume her career in publishing. But Nana was still there at home, playing with me, making us ‘tea parties’ with lovely little cakes and, despite her arthritis, taking me on nature walks. She was a gentle person whose presence in our household was welcomed, quite naturally, by her daughter, my mum – but also by her son-in-law, my dad, who adored her. I can still see her – the wispy white hair and vibrant blue eyes. I was eleven when she died. It was the first time I’d ever experienced the death of a loved one. Some weeks later, I had a bad dream and woke up crying. “I saw Nana,” I sobbed to my mother, “and she was dancing and singing. When I tried to go to her, she kept laughing and pushed me away.” Drying my tears, my mother consoled me with a dream interpretation that any child psychologist would applaud. “She’s trying to tell you that she’s no longer in any pain – that she can now frisk about like a young girl.” “But why did she push me away?” I wailed. “Because it isn’t time for you to follow her. She’s happy where she is and wants you to be happy where you are.” Her calming words made all the sense in the world to me – and I remember them to this day.
At age 18 I went off to a university that was located some 350 miles away from home. I was, at first, understandably very homesick. I tried to hide this from my mother when we spoke on the phone but I’m sure she knew. Then, after a number of weeks, I inadvertently referred to my dormitory as ‘home’. As soon as I said it, I felt awful – as if I’d betrayed her and her love. ‘Oh no, sweetheart, I’m glad that you can call your dorm ‘home’. Now I know you will thrive.’
After uni, I moved into New York City to live and work. My mother and I talked to each other on the phone almost every day. She would come in to the city quite regularly and we’d have a ’girlie’ time, going to exhibitions or concerts or the theatre. The family home continued to be a refuge for me, and I loved to escape from the city for a weekend in the country, often bringing
friends with me who were always made welcome.
After 22 years of working in a job she adored, my mother decided it was time to retire. Both parents had worked hard to ensure that their combined pensions would give them a comfortable life. They‘d bought a place in the sun, an apartment in Florida, and were looking forward to moving south. I can still see the travel and cruise brochures on the kitchen table, see them eagerly scanning the pages in anticipation of their time for fun. But nothing is guaranteed in life. Completely out of the blue, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Like many people of her generation, she’d been a smoker. Five years before this ‘death sentence’, she’d stopped smoking and was justifiably proud of her achievement. But the damage was done and no amount of treatment – the debilitating chemotherapy – could cure her. This was April 1974. She retired on her 62nd birthday in July. And she died in early September. Six weeks after that I moved from America to England, where I have lived ever since.
That first year in a foreign country was difficult and I shed many tears from loneliness and grief – but I knew she’d want me to be strong and make the most of life’s opportunities. Nonetheless, I wished I could chat on the phone to her about everything, like I used to.
It is a cliché but time does heal. And eventually I met a delightful Englishman, fell in love and married him. When I was carrying our first child, I hoped in my heart of hearts that I would have a girl and that she and I would have the same deep friendship that I’d had with my own mother.
Jennie arrived, and almost as if I’d scripted it myself, we have become great friends. I’ve listened to her problems, supporting her as my mother always supported me. I’ve celebrated her successes and exulted in her achievements. Being with her is always great fun – whether it’s retail therapy outings, watching chick flicks or simply chatting on the phone. When we walk down the street, she takes my hand, as if I were the child and she the mother. Yes, we are very close – and her girl friends often comment that they would never be able to tell their mother the kinds of things that Jennie confides in me. “After all,” she tells me, “you’re my best friend.” What more can a mother ask?
Sadly, my own beloved mother, whom I lost 41 years ago, was never able to meet my equally beloved daughter. But I know that she is out there somewhere, reunited with her own mother, looking down on Jennie and me. They are nodding their heads in approval, and smiling.