What Else Am I Supposed To Do?

My mother didn’t have an easy life. She had seven children in eleven years with three miscarriages, took care of my father who was riddled with heart disease all of my life, and worked full-time during a period in our history not many mothers were in the job force. She was an amazing woman who juggled so much in her life without complaint. When I complimented more than a few times about her strength and grace in handling it all, she would pass it off with a shrug and a question of “what else was I supposed to do?”. She wasn’t wrong. What else was she supposed to do? Giving up was not an option.

I have been thinking about my mother lately. Like many daughters, there are jarring moments of I-am-my-mother that hit me like a wrecking ball, knocking on my ass. Not because it’s something to be shameful of or even angry about. Sometimes, it just shocks me. I know she set an example for me in different aspects of life to learn from. Although, I do wonder if there a gene she handed down to me, a tough resilient one she had in her from our ancestors. I suppose it doesn’t matter. All that does is she lives in me and the other night, I recognized her spirit in me.

It came after a night of trying out a new grief group. After an hour and half of meditating – okay, me trying to meditate – and thinking about the life I have been given, I pulled back in surprise, a surprise that had me reeling well past mine and Barkley’s bedtimes. See, to say the past year and half has been a rough one would be stating the obvious. While I should still be on the ground for how the rug was snapped out from me these past eighteen months, I am still standing. Not only standing, but moving – slowly, painfully, insecurely, sure, but moving, in part because of my mother.

It started in February of 2019. My daughter, who once gave me a magnet with a quote from the TV show Gilmore Girls about a mom being a best friend, moved five hours away to pursue her dreams. In May of 2019, my son moved out as it was his time. In late May of 2019, I had a thyroidectomy due to a cancer scare. Let me tell you, the thyroid controls emotions, energy level and weight loss or gain – of course it was gain for me. Then, in July of 2019 as I settled into my idea of growing old together in our newly emptied-out nest, my best friend, my lover, my companion, my growing older partner, my co-parent, and my husband, died. Half of me died with him. Nine months later, still trying to recover from all the blows in 2019, in mid-March of this year, another punch opened up a still-healing life when my mother died. At almost 92, it was not unexpected, and in fact, it was welcomed and wanted by her. Still, she was my hero and my mom, and as much as it was her time, the knowledge of never seeing her ever again, like Peter, tore opened another part of my heart. A week later, Life shot up its middle finger at me and brought on COVID, an entirely different type of loss altogether.

So yeah, Life has beat up on me pretty hard this past year and half. Reflecting back on all the bitch slaps to me the other night. I thought a lot about my mother’s shrug and question of “what else was I supposed to do?”. She was right. What else am I supposed to do? I have said from the beginning of this nightmare, there is no option B, there never will be one. I have to, want to, need to, forge ahead in life, figuring out how to navigate on this reluctant journey I’ve been put on. The pain may slow me down, but I won’t let it stop me. I know this was my mother’s point as well. When life hands you struggles, permanent losses, and a crap-load of pain, you have to keep on keeping on in hopes it will and does get better. You have to lift your head and look to the horizon, the light above the hell you slipped into, and keep trying to reach it. Until then, you shrug and carry on.

My mother had a difficult life, yet there was a stubbornness in her to carry on, the same stubbornness that flows in my blood. We don’t succumb to Life’s shit. We face it head on, like the warrior women of our ancestors. My mother’s resilience, strength, and determination, streams in my veins, lives in my head, stays in my heart.

I am Gloria’s daughter and of course I will have “I-am-my-mother” moments. They are something to be proud of, and I hope my daughter, my son have those moments with equal pride. Because when I can’t stand, or I can’t figure out where to step next, or when all I want to do is climb into bed and let the world just pass me by, those moments and hopes lift me up to stand and point me in the direction of living….with a shrug and my own version of a ‘what else was I supposed to do?’ question, knowing there is no Option B. My mother never allowed it and I am my mother.