I remember seeing my mother cry twice. The first time I was four years old and she had learned, over the phone, that her mother had died at the hospital. My grandmother had been sick for a long time and I think it was expected, but still painful. She went into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub, bent over, her face in her hands. I hated to see her cry, and I tried to console her, but there is only so much comfort a four year old can provide. The image of her crying on that February, Sunday morning still remains with me to this day.
The second time I saw my mother cry was many years later, during my first year of college. I used to take three buses to school and three to come home. I spent a total of 90 minutes each way, on a good day, riding buses. The middle bus took the longest, about 45 minutes. One day I had left school at 3:45 P. M. and headed home. It was raining heavily that afternoon. I caught the second bus maybe a few minutes late and was grateful just to be out of the rain. However, the bus was not moving very fast. Traffic was pretty bad and there were times it wasn’t moving at all. What should have been a 45 minute ride was turning into hours. I knew my mother would be worried sick. Who could imagine that a bus ride would take so long in just rain? As I stood in the bus, looking out the window, I saw a phone booth. I was so tempted to jump off the bus and call my mother to let her know I was okay, but I could not be sure of getting back on the bus. I had to stay put and literally ride out the storm. By the time the bus reached my stop, it was 7:30 P. M. or so. I immediately found a phone, before heading to the third bus stop. I called and explained what happened and my mother sent my father to come pick me up. When I got home I saw my mother’s face, careworn and covered with tears. She had been worrying the whole time and I was helpless to do anything to reassure her. I gave her a long hug. My father told me she had been sitting at the window for hours, watching the rain and crying, looking for any sign of me. It was heartbreaking. If cell phones existed back then, I can guarantee you she would have made sure I had one the day after that experience. And even though I knew my mother would be upset and worrying herself to death, I did not fully appreciate all that it meant until I had children of my own.
Some day my own daughters will marry. Unlike my mom, I won’t have a Loretta Lynn hairdo, and I will shed some tears. Of course I will be happy for them. It’s a joyous and beautiful occasion to be celebrated. I won’t be masking any of my tears. There will be tears of joy for their bright future and maybe some selfish tears of sadness for my loss. They say you don’t lose a daughter, you gain a son, and that’s true. But you do lose something. You lose time spent together, there will be much less of that. There will be one less place set at the table for dinner. You look at the empty bed where once an angel’s head rested on a pillow for so many years. You hear one less set of footsteps coming down the creaking stairs for breakfast. There will be one less loud burst of laughter at my silly jokes and mistakes. You have one less person to hug and squeeze tight. And I guess you learn to adjust in time, after all everyone does, right? One day she’s your daughter, and the next she is someone’s wife. One day she is your baby and the next she has babies of her own. And then, and only then, will she understand the tears of a mother.
Happy 97th Birthday in heaven, Mom. I hope you are smiling down on us today and always. I love you.