gratitude-a-thon day 108: replacement moms

My mom, Luigina Constantina Gabriela Rotello Friedman.

My mom has been gone for a long time now (22 years). But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been mothered since her departure. Aside from her husky voice, which has an oceanside cottage in my head, and makes me laugh, and often guides my moral compass, I have had a lot of mommying from generous relatives and friends over the years. It’s particularly hard not to have a mom when you become a mom, and luckily many people were at the ready, understanding how painful and lonely that can be. Today, I want to say thank you to them. I want to say “Happy Mother’s Day,” because there were times, when being orphaned was not pretty and not fun, but you made it prettier and funner (and yes, I know this isn’t a word) and my appreciation runs deep.

This is my Aunt Chris. Jake and Ally used to call her Aunt “Kiss.” Since my hard disk crash and my scanner issues, this is the best photo could I share. Anyway, she is the best.

My Aunt Chris, one of my mom’s besties, has always been right there for me, head cheerleader, ready for a good conversation, a pat on the back, a memory of my mother we could laugh or cry about. She played grandma to my kids and made me feel less of the loss of my own maternal link when I was in desperate need of the kind of nurturing only a mother can give. Plus, she and I have always wondered if we were actually related, because we share so many physical characteristics. She is my Aunt by marriage, but in my book, she is blood.

Barbara has been in my life forever.

My cousin Barbara was very close to my mom and losing her was a terrible loss for her, too. But she was present for me and helped me through some of the difficult and sad times in my children’s early childhoods, when not having a mother was intensely painful. With gifts and cards, and calls and visits, Barbara gave me some much needed mothering, and my kids some amazing attention.

We’re the same age, but she played my mom for a few years, there.

My college friend Jane played mom to me a lot when my mom first died. For a year, I battled the tears and pain of her loss (adding to the sadness was finding out I was infertile, and that my mother-in-law had left my father-in-law for her high school boyfriend and was now living in Hawaii all within a month of my mom’s death–good times). Jane would make me laugh, let me cry, pop over when I needed a hug, and in general dole out the kind of love my mom would have given me, if only she weren’t dead. She never had kids, but for a few years there, she had me.

Joan & Sue. Well, they’ve always had my back.

My sisters, Susan and Joni have always taken care of me. Without those two, losing my mom would have been intolerable. What would I have done without my sister Susan bringing sacks full of gifts for the kids on Christmas Even (nothing in said sack with less than 500 pieces, by the way), celebrating birthdays and holidays with my children, and always keeping my mom alive by talking about her, so that my kids at least got some sense of this woman who was so special, but that they would never meet. My sister Joni was the person who was there with me everyday visiting my mom in the hospice and helping her to let go. It was a collaboration I will never forget. And through the years, she has been with me for the birth of both of my children, and every significant and insignificant event in my life. I can’t really imagine life without her.

There have been others. Every good friend I’ve ever had has been mom to me at one time or another. Because when you lose your mom, you get to choose your mom. And if you’re lucky, like I’ve been, replacements are there when you need them. Thanks to all of those who showed up for me over the years, for sharing your love with me and making me feel like I had a mother, even when I didn’t. It mattered.

2 thoughts on “gratitude-a-thon day 108: replacement moms

  1. Absolutely beautiful, Toni. I love that you included pictures of each of them. I love the title and the topic. As a woman without children, I hope that someday some of the people in my life will look back and see me as a replacement mom. (Some of them are not a whole lot younger than me, but that’s okay.) And I also think about all the women who have helped mother me, even when my mother was alive. For the longest time, I felt like she was all about my brothers, and if not for the love and attention of a few aunties, some older cousins and some family friends, I might have withered on the vine. Over the years, like you, girlfriends also filled in the gaps. And now, even my husband is such a good nurturer…no one can hold me like he does. Over the last 15 years or more, my mom and I developed the close loving relationship I always longed for. Losing her not quite two months ago has left a void that only the motherless can know. So it is the memory of all the love from her — and all the mothers — that carries me through this time. Thank you, Sweetface. You’re one of them.

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