Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother’s sudden death, a singular event that undoubtedly forever changed me. While the sting has lessened over time, I still struggle with the profound loss almost on a daily basis. It informs my thoughts and dreams, which may explain why I wrote this essay.
Don’t tell anyone, but for quite a long time I’ve had a Fantasy Mom. Just as four-year-olds will gleefully gush about their imaginary friends, I’d like to brag about my Fantasy Mom. She’s the most loyal, loving, funny, kind and of course, wise mother who ever did NOT exist. Fantasy Mom is an intricate combination of my real mom, and every warm, maternal character I’ve admired over the years.
Fantasy Mom firstly derives from the foremost matriarch, the very real Blessed Mother who quietly, yet staunchly remained at her son’s side during His greatest suffering. Despite doubtless unimaginable dread and fear, she never wavered. I’m confident she journeys alongside me too, especially as I navigate life’s more dodgy roller coasters. Her presence offers such peace and calm. She’s certainly my gold standard for all mothers. So how do you improve on sinless perfection? I mentioned this was a fantasy, right?
I can’t help but turn to some of the ubiquitous film and television moms who nourished me via the “boob tube” of my youth. Take the classic Fraülein Maria from “The Sound of Music.” My real mom resembled Julie Andrews’ version of Maria in many ways, with her beautiful lilting singing voice and her optimistic, romantic, feisty spirit. As a child, I couldn’t help noticing some of the physical similarities, from the penetrating blue eyes, the cropped, but feminine reddish coif to the irrepressible smile. The fact that my real mom and Maria both spent time in the convent but left in order to pursue their dreams as wives and mothers made them seem almost one in the same. But the obvious similarities stopped there. My mom never tangled with the Nazis. Maria, however, could both direct kids in a rousing marionette performance while foiling the evil fascists, all with a song and a smile.
Representing motherly wisdom, I look to Mrs. Garrett from my 1980’s favorite, “The Facts of Life.” Even though she wasn’t technically a mom to any of her boarding school kids, this fictional governess acted as a wise and loving support to a motley group of teenaged girls. She had that no-nonsense, loving, and responsible advice that I think every successful mom must possess. Though Mrs. Garrett, played by the jovial Charlotte Rae, was often overworked and clearly exasperated, the girls knew they could always reach out to her if they had gotten into some unwarranted trouble. She would calmly steer the disparate Blair, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo, in the right direction and it was usually followed up with a homemade batch of chocolate chip cookies and a shared laugh. My mom wasn’t much of a baker but she was a beacon of light in difficult times.
And finally, to round out my fantastical, perfect mom I reach back into the 1970’s sitcom vault with the hard-working single mother from “One Day at a Time,” Ann Romano. My own hard-working mother physically resembled this character the most with her small stature, reddish short hair, and impish grin. Bonnie Franklin’s character could always take on the ultra-dim, but lovable janitor, Schneider and any other annoyance that plagued the family with absolute aplomb. Just a smirk and roll of her eyes signaled they were testing her patience, yet she was able to maintain her cool. Plus, she truly loved her daughters and was pained when they made mistakes, a trait so common in most real-life moms.
Fantasy Mom became a super amalgamation of all of these wonderful characteristics and attributes.
When I went shopping for my wedding dress for the first couple times, I didn’t face it all alone. Fantasy Mom was there. She’d wait patiently as I tried on each dress and look to my own expression for guidance. When I lit up she would exclaim, “That’s the one!” At this point, she would tear up and say, “I can’t believe my daughter’s getting married.” In reality, I missed my own mother terribly during that otherwise “happy” experience. My enthusiastic best friend came into town and helped me finally select the right gown. But Fantasy Mom was not far, standing just outside the curtained dressing room, offering the perfect suggestions, “maybe a slight alteration here,” and “oh, wouldn’t this style veil work perfectly with it.”
Of course, Fantasy Mom made an appearance at my own wedding. She made sure my dad was on his best behavior and she even whispered the words of encouragement I craved just before I made my way nervously down the aisle. I’ve given serious thought to what those words might be. “I’m so proud of you. Just remember to stand up straight and show off that dazzling smile. It’ll be over before you know it!”
When I had my first child, Fantasy Mom was there with much-needed advice on breastfeeding, colic, and getting my child to sleep through the night. I imagined her washing dishes, doing laundry and making delicious casserole-type meals. Most importantly she mothered me at a time when I most needed a mom. “You poor thing…” I’d hear her say as she touched my cheek. “Do you need some water? You should get some rest. I’ll take the little one. You try to take it easy. I’ve got this.” She’d spend the night and relieve some of the burdens of the constant nighttime wake ups. I’d peacefully nod off hearing her singing as she lulled her beloved grandson to sleep. In reality, my husband and I muddled through it, relying heavily on each other and lots of parenting books.
At the same time, a neighbor had just had a baby. I would suspiciously peer out our living room picture window as the neighbor’s mother drove up every day, smiling and waving, so excited to unload big boxes of diapers, food, and toys. Fantasy Mom brought even bigger boxes of diapers that were 50% more absorbent and much better tasting, all-organic meals! She was an excellent babysitter who was always available and a helpful companion on trips to the zoo or the park. I never felt isolated when she was around. She spent my most lonely days with me including the never-ending afternoon marathons as we expectantly watched my pants-less toddler very reluctantly make the transition from diapers to potty. It was a boring, dirty business but she didn’t mind. She welcomed it.
She also held my hand when I suffered my miscarriages. She didn’t say anything at all, just looked lovingly at me. I could hear all that I needed in her kind eyes.
Unfortunately, Fantasy Mom does not exist. No big revelation there. But, those who haven’t experienced loss probably don’t understand my need for her. Through the death lens, everything appears altered. My loving, yet very imperfect mother was elevated to Saint. Over time, I’ve managed to gloss over every single flaw and have erased the times we didn’t get along. Instead, the focus centers more on how I failed her in the years leading up to her death. For instance, I sincerely regret that we never experienced an adult relationship. I was 22 when she died and not ready or merely unwilling to let go of my adolescent angst and narcissism. Now as a mom of three myself, I am finally beginning to understand her level of self-sacrifice. I know I loved her but I had no concept as to how much she was willing to forsake for us. I pray that she knows how much I treasure her now and everything she ever did for our family.
Fantasy Mom offers me a chance to bridge a seemingly impassable gap. I can imagine how strong our mother/daughter bond would be had she lived. I can envision the depth of love she would have for my kids and my husband. And I can tangibly feel how much I would value her physical presence in my life right now.
Fantasy Mom not only doesn’t make mistakes, she gives me the chance to make up for my own. Fantasy Mom is a loving tribute to my own real, flesh and bone mother. This Mothers’ Day, thank a mom. It doesn’t have to be yours, although that’s especially nice. It doesn’t even have to be an actual mom, but someone who has been spiritually nurturing to you. While no one compares to a full-blown fantasy, many moms have qualities that are downright fantastic.
I pray someday I will be reunited with my mom. Until then, I have Mary who reminds me I’m never alone and of course there’s Fantasy Mom who is ready to roll up her sleeves and get down to work in helping me in whatever endeavor I can imagine.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Fantasy Moms out there!