Sunday, December 19, 2010

30 Days of Thanks—Day #25

I am grateful for my mother’s life.

My mother, Carolyn Hudson Hitchcock, died on this day 8 years ago, just 8 months after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. She was 57 years old. I was 26. The picture above was taken Mother’s Day weekend 2002, a few weeks after her diagnosis. I had come to visit and saw her for the first time since we learned the news. On one of the days I was there, she got violently ill and could not stop vomiting, so I had to take her to the hospital, where she stayed for a day or two until they could get her symptoms under control. I hung the yellow streamer over the fireplace to welcome her home. She hated having her picture taken (this is one of only a handful I have of the two of us together), but I think she gave in for this one because she knew I would have a limited number of opportunities left to take pictures with her.

Six months later, I visited my parents for Thanksgiving in 2002, and ended up staying there with my oldest sister, Diane, for the next three weeks, helping my dad take care of my mom during her final days. Until this year, those were probably the hardest days of my life. My mom and I had a difficult relationship, but at its core were two women who loved one another deeply. I counted on her more than I ever cared to admit. I was not prepared to figure out how to grow up the rest of the way without her. Although it happens rarely now, there are still moments when I wish I could pick up the phone and call her, including this past Mother’s Day, when I could not seem to get Hudson’s fever under control and didn’t know what to do.

Before Hudson was born, I wrote about my as-yet-unresolved feelings about becoming a mother without a mother of my own, particularly when my feelings about my relationship with my own mother and her death were also still unresolved. Two years later, those feelings are still unresolved. I don’t know how long they will remain unresolved, although during the short time I was given to mother my daughter, I definitely began to develop more confidence that I would be able to be the mother that I had always wanted to have. But Hudson was a most easygoing toddler—she was very easy to mother. I didn’t get the chance to mother her into her teenage years and adulthood—I guess that would have been the real test. As I wrote before, my mother taught me by example a lot about mothering, both about what to do and what not to do. My hope was that when it was my turn, I would know the difference and be able to do a lot more of the former than the latter.

After my mother died at such a young age (relatively speaking, at least), my biggest fear became that I would also die young and leave my children bereft of their mother, perhaps at even a younger age than I lost my mother. I certainly never dreamed, ever in a million years, that I would face something worse than leaving my own children motherless (leaving Hudson motherless would have been awful, but at least she would have been given the chance to grow up in that case). I never dreamed that only seven and a half years after holding my mother’s hand as she died, I would hold my small, beautiful daughter in my arms as she died. All before I turned 35 years old.

I have no sense of what kind of companion my mother would have been in this grief—she had a lot of trouble managing intense and difficult emotions, including her own. But I feel pretty sure that having a mother around when something like this happens would be better than not having one. I suppose all that is left for me is to try to find some comfort in the idea that maybe my mother and Hudson are together somewhere, the grandmother and grandchild who never got a chance to meet on earth. Since my mom can’t be here to take care of me and since I can’t be there to care of Hudson, all I can do is hope that my mother is somewhere where she can take care of me by taking care of Hudson for me.

Even though this is supposed to be a gratitude post, I can’t help but wish we were all just here together.


  1. "I suppose all that is left for me is to try to find some comfort in the idea that maybe my mother and Hudson are together somewhere, the grandmother and grandchild who never got a chance to meet on earth."

    I hope so too, Mandy.

  2. I struggle so with the idea of what "comes next." Somehow, though, I have to believe that your mom is taking care of Hudson in ways she could never care for you. I'm so sorry, Mandy, all the time.

  3. I feel such a strong sense of familiarity in the way you write about your relationship with your mother.

    My mother and I have had a complicated relationship as well. Not bad, really. Just complicated. It is hard to imagine how a relationship with my own child -specifically a daughter, if i ever have one- will be effected by mine with my mother. Sometimes knowing that I will never have an "ideal" relationship with her is deeply saddening while at other times I understand that human relationships are by nature imperfect and I am ok with it all. I think she must often feel the same way.

    I am so sorry that she is gone and that she never got to meet Hudson or see what a wonderful mother you became. Cancer is a terrible, terrible thief. Thinking of you and wishing you had had more time with your mother. 26 years is not enough.

  4. I think the sentiment of her mothering you by caring for Hudson is truly something to hold onto.
    I am sorry that you life has known so much loss at such an early age Mandy... I am thinking of you.

  5. Your mother was lucky to have such a wonderful daughter as you.

  6. I second what Libby said, your mother was lucky to have such a wonderful daughter as you, and you were lucky to have her, no matter how complicated the relationship may have been. I think sometimes our most meaningful relationships are the complicated ones, because they teach us what we will and will not accept, and show us what we are capable of. I'm sure your mother was a beautiful person, and I'm so sorry you lost her at such a young age. You are such a wonderful mother Mandy, and Hudson and the Penguin are so blessed to be your children.

  7. What a beautiful picture of you and your mother. I see love there, so much love. In my innermost being, I believe your mother is there hand-in-hand with Hudson.