04/03/2013 07:56 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Raising a Child After the Loss of my Mother

funny mom and son smiling

I don't want to miss this. My kids are young, and I'm the most important person in their world (other than dad, of course). Some day they will have their own lives and wives and babies and won't need me any more. I imagine one day I'll be a 60-year-old woman looking back and maybe I won't remember what it was like to be annoyed. It was a wonderful time, I'll probably say.

But today I had to go upstairs and punch pillows as I grunted behind clenched teeth. This was right before I locked myself in the bathroom while my two-year-old screamed and punched the door on the other side. This is so hard, I mumbled with my head cradled in my lap.

"Mommy, mommy!" he yelled, banging on the door. There I was, on the other side of the door, trying so hard just to breathe and not completely explode. I have cried on a few bathroom floors, but this one felt as though I had travelled full circle.

Many years ago, I came home from high school to find my mom doubled over on the couch. She had been throwing up. As a woman who hid her illness for nine years and soldiered on to malls, hockey games, and countless social get-togethers with my dad, she was over it.

"I don't think I can beat this thing," she whispered in my ear as she pulled me in for a hug. She had never spoken this way. My mom hadn't even told us that she had cancer -- she just had a "blood problem."

After abruptly pulling out of the tight embrace, I said I had homework to do. I went down to the basement bathroom and cried so hard that I threw up. As my pale, bare legs lay heavy on the tiles, a seed of loneliness was planted within me. I regret now not hugging her longer, staying with her, getting her some tea: anything to prolong just being with her. But I was a child -- I only knew how to cry my own tears.

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I couldn't have known then that the hole in my chest would only get bigger and that my loneliness would be married to the fact that I was motherless. I will never know love like this again, I thought, as I sat next to her hospital bed for the last time.

How many years of hard work had she put in with us kids? The nights I woke her up; the kisses on my knees; the irrational tantrums. Had she forgotten what an A-hole toddler I was by the time I asked her what we were doing for my 16th birthday? Had those stresses seemed insignificant, laughable even, compared to the predicament of being in the hospital dying and not able to plan her daughter a sweet 16 party? I would assume so.

I imagine that she looked back upon those years with her young kids as a wonderful time, a time of innocence and joy. Is it easier to gaze into the past at the 'small stuff' and subconsciously erase the hardships, the strains? And even though I'm in it right now -- the sleepless nights, the barf, the tears, the irrational screaming -- it is small.

And I've been through big. I crawled into a hospital bed with my Doc Martens on and laid my head on my mother's chest, saying goodbye forever. I should know the difference between the two experiences. And yet some days it just feels so big.

But these frustrations, the 'hard work' of early parenthood doesn't qualify as being the 'big moments' in baby books. Today, you screamed at me and bit my leg. Last night you woke up 15 times and I told your dad that I was "soooo done." These are just things I tell my sister, my friends, in a moment where I'm caught up in the labour of it all. Because, at times, this is what it feels like: labour. I work for these little people. They call, I run. They tug, I listen. They cry, I comfort. And some days, it feels really hard to give of myself when I feel I have nothing left in me.

I look back at that day when my mom realized she wouldn't survive. I imagine her tears were not just because she was going to lose her life, but also because I would lose a mother. I now understand that.

And as I sat on the cold tiles of my bathroom floor depleted with my toddler still clawing at the door, something occurred to me. I didn't feel the ache of loneliness within me, the sick feeling in my belly that I was alone. That gaping hole in my chest that had been exposed for almost two decades was now closed. It's like I was out there in the world for so many years being motherless and then one morning I peed on a stick and suddenly I was a mother.

Other than my patience and hours of sleep, I wasn't losing anything either. The cruxes of my issues were so very small compared to the enormity that had occurred so long ago. The virtue of crying these small tears doesn't completely register in that moment, however -- it never does.

The realization arrives later on when everyone is giggling and rolling on the floor. My toddler says, "My penis makes me happy." I say, "I know sweetie. Now hands out of your pants." He then leans in for a cuddle for no reason while my 11-month-old blares a toothy smile from across the room, and suddenly something shifts.

It's this happiness that comes from having something in my life that is bigger than me. The big beats out the small. So, I think of my mother on that couch, tired and defeated, and I feel ridiculous for not being happy all of the time.

My mom, if she were here now, would probably tell me not to take the challenging moments so seriously, that it will all go by so quickly. And even though she isn't actually here to say these things to me, for some reason I just know them.

I had an amazing mother just long enough to teach me this. I know I don't have to wait until I'm 60 years old to say, it was a wonderful time, so I'll just say it. This IS a wonderful time.

By Trish Bentley

The Purple Fig is a blogazine where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.

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