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Fears dispelled: Mother of the bride, at last

My mother was afraid of many things. She was afraid she would get the clap from sitting on public toilets; she was afraid to serve her family underdone pork because it might poison us. Most of all, she was afraid of losing me, either to one of the many predators she was convinced roamed the streets looking for innocent children, or to some unknown, cruel twist of fate. 

She had good reason to fear a cruel fate. She had lost her beloved husband, my father, in the closing months of the closing year of a foreign war. A few more spins of the moon and he would have been home with us, helping her to zip her zippers and celebrate my birthdays. But now he was gone. 

In those early years, my mother and I were very close. I thought she was beautiful and wise. She thought I was perfect, which was fine with me. But inevitably, as the years passed, some of that changed. I learned that her wisdom couldn’t solve all my problems, as it had when I was five. She learned I wasn’t all-perfect, all the time. As a young adult I didn’t see much of her. I remember once she wrote a sad letter to a friend of mine, asking how I could be persuaded to come and see her more often. I don’t like to think about that letter now.

Then my mother got sick. It was cancer, a sneaky pernicious sort that hid itself until it was strong enough to resist any treatment. She had a year left to live, give or take a few months.

Our family rallied around, including me. Finally, not quite too late, I did come to see her. And with no family of my own, I could stay for days. I sat with her, read to her, and sometimes I slept with her, just to be sure she was still breathing. In an unexpected way, this was one of our best times together. There were no arguments, no disagreements. She was too weak to argue. We just loved each other again. 

You know how mothers always say: Someday I’ll be gone and you’ll be sorry about the way you treated me. Well, it’s true. Those months with her at the end of her life gave me a chance to make up for all the bratty things I’d done to her up until then. I’ll forever be grateful for them.

She still had her fears, although not about dying. She was resigned to that. Her biggest fear was about me. I was still unmarried, and with her gone, she worried that I would have no one to look out for me. Who would be a buffer against the world for me, she fretted. Equally important in those days, who would pay my rent? Among the last words she said to me were, “Who is going to take care of you?”

She died about a year after her cancer was discovered, just as the doctors said she would. I grieved, then came to terms with her absence, and went on. Life was pretty good mostly, maybe just a little lonely. I got a good job and paid my own rent. 

•  •  •

Then, after a long long time, the right man came along. We were both well past middle age when we met — never mind how far, but far. And, by some miracle or character fault, neither of us had ever been married. Like me, this perfect-for-me man had been single, on his own, for all his life. 

And now here’s an amazing thing, something to ponder in this Mother’s Day season. At the time we came together, my future husband’s mother was 82 years old, old enough so that her children should be able to look after themselves, right? Not quite, at least in her mind. When told that her youngest son was really getting married, she gave a very serious sigh of relief. Then she said, “Thank goodness! Now I don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

She was still worried about him! He’d had a successful career, traveled to dangerous places and emerged alive. He paid his bills and learned to cook vegetables. Yet his mother was still worried about him because, as far as she was concerned, he needed someone to take care of him. 

At our wedding, my husband’s mother was sitting in her place as mother-of-the-groom, able to see her last child safe at last. My mother was tucked into the pocket of my jacket, in an old photograph. It showed her smiling into the camera, crouching down a little to get into the frame. I had taken the picture when I was about eight years old and couldn’t reach very high, so she helped me get it right. She looks happy. And I think she was happy that day in church too, as she came down the aisle with me, her final fears finally dispelled. 

I’m OK, Mom. I love you. 

Marjorie Palmer is a sometime resident of Taconic, where she is also a sometime writer.