On relationships with mothers, for Mother’s Day | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

On relationships with mothers, for Mother’s Day 

Relationships between mothers and their children are complicated. Our mothers are our first teachers, intentionally and unintentionally showing us how to be good people, how to treat and care for others, how to navigate the world, and how to overcome challenges. If you are as lucky as I have been, your mother will also teach you how to cook, clean, iron, and stand on your own two feet.  

Our mothers are our most enduring, and most indelible guides.  

My mother always said that no matter how old either of us lived to be, I would always be her child. I know that I am not the only woman on earth who had wished, often, that my mother would treat me as the adult I had become instead of the child that I was. My mother never stopped giving advice, expressing concern, and telling me that, in general, I was on the wrong track. “I told you so” was a consistent and all-too-familiar refrain.  

Much to my chagrin, my mother was frequently right about my being frequently wrong. This was always deeply annoying to me, since on some level it proved the correctness of her assertion that I’d never be entirely grown up and would likely need round-the-clock supervision for the rest of my life. 

Conversely, my mother was also my greatest cheerleader and champion. There was no personal product or artifact too mediocre not to be lauded as a work of genius. I often thought that if I were to floss my teeth in front of her, she would bronze the floss and have it framed, evidence of my sheer exceptionality. In her eyes, I occupied that unique position in the Great Chain of Being that fell somewhere between idiot and savant. Since the needle often pointed more in the direction of idiot, she always felt free to remind me that my native brilliance left plenty of room for improvement. 

My mother died last summer. She was diagnosed with stage four cancer on June 5, 2023. By June 7 I had flown to Nevada, where she lived, to provide whatever level of care she needed. That her diagnosis coincided with my retirement was a miracle—a miracle for which I am profoundly grateful. Not having to navigate work obligations when your mother is dying allows you the luxury of providing undivided time and attention. 

I brought her home from the hospital on June 9. In a matter of three weeks, I watched her health decline precipitously. We went from managing her pain with Tylenol and CBD oil to managing her pain with Morphine and Haldol and Ativan. By the fourth week she no longer ate or drank, and she slept close to 24 hours a day. I slept in her bedroom with her because I was terrified that she would fall if she tried to get up during the night, or die alone without me there to hold her hand and kiss her goodbye. 

I had hospice on speed dial. I contacted the funeral home in Las Vegas that was to retrieve her remains, and the funeral home in Milwaukee to which she would be sent so that she could be buried beside my father. I notified her friends and relatives that she was terminally ill. I hovered. I cried. I prayed for her to go peacefully and painlessly. I wondered what would become of me after she died, when I would at last be free to live my life without anxiety, guilt, concern, and obligation. More than that, I wondered what my life would be like when someone I had loved so deeply, for so long, was gone. 

Now she has passed, and I am out of a job—a job that I tried to do well but never did perfectly. For 66 years I tried to be a good daughter, often falling short of the mark, to a mom who loved me more than any other person on earth ever has or ever will again. 

She often warned me that I would miss her someday. I would always raise one eyebrow as if to say, “Don’t be so sure, Mom.”  

It only took a few days for me to realize how much I already missed her, in ways I could never have imagined before. I ran one last load of her laundry, and as I folded her pajamas, I felt an unexpected surge of tenderness and emptiness and grief—and in that moment, I could hear her saying, quite clearly and with mom-like emphasis, “I told you so.”  

One final proof that she was right all along. 

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About Writer Vickie Shufton 

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Vickie Shufton had a 35-year career in public education. She is a columnist for the Berkshire Edge and resident of Great Barrington, Mass. “Soon to return to my hometown to live out the rest of my days,” Shufton said. “I should be moving back within the next year or so.”