She was so pretty. So pretty it was hard to look away from that porcelain skin, those high cheekbones, stunning green eyes with just the right amount of sparkle and depth, and shiny black hair. And those lips, perfectly plump with neatly applied lipstick, always ready to give a kiss on the cheek or a knowing smile.
More than pretty, she was beautiful—you know, beautiful inside and out. She was classy. Not fancy or prim and proper, not snobby—just classy. A certain air about her that made you notice and appreciate her presence when she walked into the room. She was a hair model—her beauty captured eternally in newspaper ads for a local salon.
She made banana bread. Delicious banana bread from a recipe we still use today. She liked to dance. I often picture her laughing with Grandpa in a 1940s living room while dancing to the sound of a Victrola and being so wrapped up in those moments with her kids.
So I imagine.
She was a proud and loving mother. She gave me my mom.
I never met this beautiful being, but I hold her in my heart. She is my grandmother. I don’t know much about her other than snippets of truth I’ve pieced together through the years—some factual, some possibly fabricated, some I feel like she showed me herself through that deep and soulful gaze that draws me to her photos.
She passed away suddenly when my mom was 16, and to say that changed it all would be an understatement. My mom is my everything, and the thought of her having had her own everything torn away from her at such a young age is the purest, most profound heartbreak I can imagine.
We don’t talk much about her—I know it’s too painful for my mom—but I know she’s there. She has shaped the way my mom mothers me and the way she is the best grandmother on the planet to my boys. She shapes the worry, the love, the everyday, and the tomorrow. She gave me my mom, who having experienced such loss so early on, has committed herself to caring for and ensuring happiness for everyone around her.
She has those same beautiful eyes and high cheekbones and the softest skin and even more so, the warmest heart. One smile, one conversation, one laugh, and she can make you feel like you’re the most special person in the universe.
I spent a lot of time as a child feeling anxious that my mom would pass away when I was young, just like her mother did.
I was sure if it ever happened, that I’d be emotionally and physically paralyzed—suspended in time and unable to move forward, to keep breathing, to take a step, to get to tomorrow.
A college friend of mine recently lost her everything, and I remember the words she used to capture it on social media, “RIP Mommy. I have been dreading this my whole life.”
I had never before been able to find words to express that worry, that fear, that anticipation of immeasurable loss and the sorrow it would bring. No matter how long you dread it, you can never come to terms with the fact that, someday, the life that gave you life would end.
I remember mentioning this dread to my mom when I was a kid, how I knew I simply wouldn’t be able to face another day. In her brave and forward-looking fashion and ability to soothe all around her, she told me, “You go on because you have to.”
That’s the thing about moms. They can bundle all their experience—the heartbreaking and the uplifting and the joyous and the scandalous and the hard work and the knowledge and the unbelievable amount of heart—into those simple statements that leave a mark on you, that you carry forward as a mantra. She may not remember saying those words to me, but they are the bright light that gets me through hard days—when work is too demanding, when I’m struggling with the kids, when things just aren’t quite right.
I go on because I have to. I find a way.
I find a way, and I teach my kids to find a way, and little by little, we sprinkle a bit of my grandmother’s and my mom’s past magic into our future.
Sometimes I wish I had something from my grandmother who I never knew. A piece of jewelry. A book. A note. A knick-knack.
And then I remember . . . I have my mom. She is my everything, and truly, the greatest gift of all.
Someday, when that moment I’ve dreaded my whole life arrives and then when my own time has come, I hope that somewhere along the way, I’ve been enough of everything to my boys that they will go on and carry us forward to shape their tomorrows too.
Because that’s the thing about moms. They stick with you. They fill your heart with memories and mantras to take away the dread and the emptiness. Even when they’re no longer next to you, they’re still by your side and always in your heart.