Now that is a loaded question, right? We can answer that a thousand ways and then we could add another thousand more.
I recently lost a very dear friend of mine. She was a second mother to me. I called her Sissy, a nickname that her brother gave her when she was a baby. I can still remember very clearly meeting Sissy for the very first time. Her son, Sonny, my boyfriend at the time, brought me to Texas back in 1989 for the Thanksgiving holiday. I think I fell in love with her the first time we met. We connected and bonded very easily.
Sissy had four older brothers and no sisters. She married her first husband and they had three sons together. She got remarried to her second husband, who had two daughters from his first marriage, both of which lived out of state with their mom. They were a blended family.
Sissy treasured her female relationships. She would often say, “My son’s bring me my daughters.”
I loved listening to Sissy talk about her “momma”. She loved her mom dearly. She enjoyed retelling the many wonderful stories about her mom and she treasured each one of them. I remember her telling me, “Once your mom dies, there is no one in the world who will ever love you as much as your momma.” And that is how her mom made her feel.
I wasn’t that fortunate. I knew my mom loved me growing up. She cooked and cleaned and did those kinds of things a mom does for her child. But I didn’t get the nurturing, protective kind of mom that comes with motherhood. I didn’t realize this until I got much older. I didn’t realize how much I was searching for something that I needed. Looking back, it is clearer.
I found an old autograph book from 1974. I was in the 7th grade. This is one of the entries from a friend of mine.
I know this is a little sloppy but, I’m trying to keep Mr. Smith from seeing it. Dear Karen, I hope you and Greg fall in love and get married. No matter what some people think, you’re gonna; ya hear? Listen, this sounds a little corny but I have to say it: I don’t want to lose you as a friend and you’re also one of my best friends. Anyway I just don’t want you to forget your “mom”. So I’ll be seeing you later. Bring those grades up girl so you can be back on the cheer-leading squad.
P.S. I don’t mind you calling me mom. I like it.
Funny thing is that Kim, who was actually in the same grade as me, was one of the first of many to get the mom title from me. I had other friends from school that I called mom. I find that odd, especially because they were girls themselves, the same age as me. They were usually the nurturing type, the ones who would protect me from bullies and also listened to my problems and gave me encouragement, compliments, and advice.
So in a way, they were a mom to me.
In high school, my best friend, Levia, took me over to her house. I fell in love with her mom, too. She loved me like another daughter. Lots of my friends’ moms or parents felt that way. I often heard them say, “My mom really likes you. You are the only friend she will allow to spend the night.” And so often times, I would ask if I could call them “mom”.
Of my mother’s five children, I was the only child to run away from home. One time, I stayed with my best friend’s older sister. Another time, I stayed with my boyfriend’s family. I called his mother, mom.
Then, in my late twenties, I went to Texas and met Sissy. I remember asking her what I should call her; by her first name, Carolyn, or her nickname, Sissy. She told me I could call her whatever I liked and I could even call her mom. I chose to call her Sissy. I’ve wondered why I didn’t choose to call her mom when I could have. She ended up filling that role so easily and the void that I needed so desperately. But I considered her a mother. I got her Mother’s Day cards each year and one year I got her a balloon on a stick. That balloon stayed inflated for more than twenty years. I would tell her that she could get rid of it or deflate it but she never would. I finally said, “Are you afraid if you deflate it, it will deflate our relationship?” She confessed she did. I smiled and told her that could never happen.
For the last six months, I was able to help care for Sissy. On Easter Sunday, I had the honor of experiencing her last day here on earth. For all she has done for me over the many years, it felt good to be able to give her something back.
Tonight, I was invited to a women’s gathering to talk about our mothers, grandmothers and surrogate mothers who passed away. It was truly a spiritual experience. To see the deep connections that these women have had or have to their mothers, some describing both their positive and negative emotional attachments to their mother, is extraordinary. I saw that no matter how old we get, that little girl-the daughter, still lives within each of us. Some wanting more from our mothers, but most just wanting more time with our mothers, to try and reconcile what went wrong or to recapture what was lost.
We went around the room and we each shared our “mom” story. When it was my turn to talk about Sissy, I quoted Sissy, regarding her mother’s unconditional love. I confessed, I never really felt that way. I told them about how my mom had two children with her first husband and two children with her second husband and how I came in the middle of those two marriages and how that story seemed to follow me growing up and how that story became my story. That was the legacy I carried. But then I said, with Sissy, I was not that story. I had a clean slate. I was just Karen.
Sissy learned of my whole story and it never mattered to her. She loved me despite my flaws and rich and troubled past. She loved all those parts of me. I truly cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had she not been in it. She transformed me with her acceptance and unconditional love. She is the true meaning of motherhood.
So today, I honor Sissy and all those surrogate mothers who nurture the souls that need nurturing. Happy Mother’s Day!