I Wasn't Her Friend

When I was a young girl there was a woman in my life who did not care if I liked her; her role was not to be my friend. I’ll admit she made me mad sometimes, and I didn’t always agree with her. But I knew enough to listen to her.

There were 40 years between us, and I smile thinking how she was so much different at 56 than I am today.  One difference that comes to mind is she went to have her hair done every Saturday morning.  Somehow she managed to keep the hairstyle neat for an entire week.  It still amazes me as I wash, dry and style mine every day that she was able to do that.

Her friends were adults.  And I, the little girl, was her daughter.

She didn’t sit on the floor and play board games with us. She never asked what we wanted to have for dinner; we ate what she cooked. She didn’t want to hear complaints about how uncool it was to have to be home by 10. And we’d better not ask again for an 11 p.m. curfew – or she’d roll it back to 9! I talked with my sister recently, and we remembered how we didn’t get any automatic praise; it had to be earned.

Sometimes she made me angry; I was furious when I came home from my first date with Kevin (now my husband) and excitedly told her how wonderful he was. She told me she was happy I had a great time, but that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Her words were harsh, but I think she was trying to protect me from getting hurt. In a way I also think she was protecting her own heart, as she found it hard to think of letting her daughter go.

My dad was dying of pancreatic cancer on the day I married Kevin. I was putting on my wedding dress; my father, who had gone down to 90 pounds, was slowly dressing in his tuxedo.

Mom came to me and hugged me, asking me to promise that I would never forget her. She was scared; she knew she was weeks away from being alone. I promised her I would never forget her.

For many years I was angry about that. My wedding day was supposed to be happy, and in many ways it was, but it was filled with sadness due to Mom’s losing dad.

I now understand her fears.  I think we all fear the day we will be alone.

Our last holiday together was Valentine’s Day 2012. I had neighbors over and I prepared heart-shaped sandwiches with pink strawberry floats.  We had pink candles and chocolate heart-shaped lollipops.  It was beautiful. We all had a wonderful time. Mom was 93, but she seemed strong and well.

The next day she woke up unable to breathe, and she died twelve days later. My last words to her, the night before she died, were “I love you, Mom.” Despite the tube in her throat, she did her best to answer, “I love you, too.”

To this day I don’t know why I had that Valentine’s Day party; I’d never done that before.

Her funeral was in the church where I’d received the sacraments, gone to Mass every Sunday, and gotten married to Kevin. I said goodbye to my mother with tears running down my face; I proudly gave the eulogy I’d written. I had kept the promise I gave her on my wedding day. She had never been alone.

Mom raised my sister and me to be best friends, and we know we have our mother watching over us every day as she always did.  Something tells us that her hair is in perfect place, too. I’m sure the first place she found in heaven was the beauty shop!

No, I was not her friend, but I am incredibly proud to say I am her daughter.​​

Donna Vesel Ryan, a frequent contributor to ThirdAge, is the founder and editor of the blog www.50plusstickingtogether.com.