"It's a girl!" my husband joyously exclaimed. "You got your little girl!"
After a seemingly endless labor, I should have been exhaustedbut all I felt was indescribable joy. A girl! I marveled. We'll be as close as Mom and I were!
Suddenly, pain pierced my exhilaration. If only my mom could see her beautiful granddaughter, I thought. I pushed tears from my cheeks, resolving that this familiar ache was not going to tarnish my joy.
MY MOTHER DIED from ovarian cancer when I was nine years old. My memories of her now are few, but I know we were practically inseparable. I was a "Mama's girl," always hanging on her skirt, gladly helping her with any household chore, just to be with her.
Some of the best times we spent together were lazy summer days at the beach near our home. In the morning, Mom would pack up the cooler with sandwiches, lemonade, and a special dessert. Then she would put on her sun hat and off we'd go for a day in the sand and sun.
My clearest, dearest memory of Mom, however, is when she knelt by my bed and helped me accept Jesus into my heart. I was five.
Sadly, most of my other memories are of when she was sick for three years before her death. I'll never forget that horrible uncertainty of waking to find Mom's bed empty, only to be told she'd been rushed to the hospital during the night.
One year Mom was allowed to come home on Christmas Eve. I can still see her lying on the couch when I came in the door from the school bus. She was too weak to get up but her arms flung open wide to hug me. That was our last Christmas together.
By God's grace and with the loving support of our extended family, I got through that early loss, but that longing has always been a part of me. I was unprepared, however, for the ache I felt when I became a mother myself.
while those early days with my daughter, Olivia, were filled with wonder and amazement, I suddenly became afraid I wouldn't live to see her grow up. I began thinking of my mother, her death, and my death every day. At midnight, while I sat nursing Olivia, surrounded by darkness, my chest tightened as I thought of nothing but death, death, death. Long after Olivia was nestled back into her bassinet, my mind raced.
My husband lay asleep next to me; I longed to shake him and blurt out my feelings. Yet I was too embarrassed to share this fear with anyone, even him. I questioned my faith, not in God, but in my belief that he would truly care for me. I wanted to experience that "peace that passes understanding," but how?
Prayer became my biggest ally. Every night as I nursed Olivia and the same dark thoughts haunted me, I immediately prayed for deliverance from my fears. One night I opened my Bible to Psalm 91. By the dim glow of a nightlight, I read, "If you make the Most High your dwellingeven the LORD, who is my refugethen no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."
The words washed over me. For the first time since Olivia's birth, I felt peace. I memorized verse 14: "'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.' "
From that night onward, whenever I began to worry, I would repeat that verse. Slowly, I let go of those debilitating fears and allowed the joy of motherhood to consume me. I also calmed my fears by reminding myself of how God had answered prayer in other areas of my life. At the suggestion of my pastor's wife, I had begun praying for a Christian husband when I was twelve. I ended my nightly prayers with that plea until I was twenty-seven and the Lord finally granted my request. There were times during dating fiascos, however, that I'd wondered if my prayer went unheard. But God doesand didhear. I only hope my new prayer, "Let me live to raise my children," will be granted as well.
I also realized that in order to find true peace about my loss, I had to deal with it all over again. This time, however, I wasn't grieving as a young child yearning for her mommy, but as an adult woman who longed for the wisdom, understanding, and unconditional love of her strongest female ally, her mother.
I asked several people who knew my mother best to write about her for meto tell me about what made her laugh, what made her angry, what zany things she liked to do, what her passions in life were. I asked my dad to write about what kind of mother she was. I devoured each reply I got.
Many a tear threatened to blur the ink on the pages as I read. But I emerged feeling my mother had come aliveif only for a few minutesthrough the recollections of others. Now, I feel I know her a little bit better.
To make my mother real to my children, I've tried to incorporate her into their lives. Her picture sits in our living room and we often talk about her. Olivia, and now my second daughter, Rebecca, know their grandma lives in heaven with Jesus.
LOSING MY MOTHER has undoubtedly made me a better mother myself. I treasure each day with my daughters, regardless of teething crankiness and terrible twos. Tomorrow is not promised. But rather than view that as a threat, I see it as a reason to bask in the joy of life's simple pleasures. I strive to be like the woman in Proverbs 31:25 who "can laugh at the days to come," free of anxiety.
I have a note from my mother I treasure, not because it imparts any last words of wisdom from a dying mother to her daughter, but because it was written by her to me. The contents are trivialshe thanks me for some chocolate chip cookies I sent to the hospital for her and she tells me they're her favorite kindbut to me it's a precious tidbit of knowledge; the only thing I know about her that she told me herself. Often I feel cheated that I'll never knowon this earth, anywaythe woman who gave birth to me. And that makes me realize I want my children to really know me.
So I've started a mother's journal, writing down my thoughts and feelings about Olivia and Rebecca, their dad, our lives, the world, the future. I also kept detailed pregnancy records and am writing elaborate baby books for them. Lord willing, I'll be here when they grow up and we can have fun reading these books together. But if I'm not, what a legacy these written words will be.
Today, I can actually say I'm at peace with my mother's death. God's used it to shape me into the person I am. And I can praise God that, while he takes away, he also gives. I need only gaze upon my two girls to know that.
CAROLYN A. KIMMEL lives with her family in Pennsylvania.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.