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Forging Ahead

On My Own

This author is holding on to the memory of her mother while making memories of her own.

Surging with the spirit of Helene, I am surprisingly giddy with a sense of adventure and invincibility that is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of grief. I am relieved that she is no longer suffering. I am released to become an unbridled woman who doesn’t have to please anyone anymore. For as long as I can remember, I would hesitate before making major decisions, gauging my moves on: “Would Mom approve?” Mom is someone else now, the power that fuels me, but no longer my judge. I am free.

I can write my first work of fiction, and it can be the most raw and sexual piece of beach trash anyone has ever devoured on a vacation.

I can wear hippie skirts and unkempt hair and not be greeted with a dramatic eye roll.

I can learn to mother myself; it's about time.

I can be absolutely fearless, since one of my biggest fears has already occurred—I lost my mother, and I am okay.

Each afternoon, I talk to her photograph, a shot of her as a wild-haired teen with a seductive grin. The picture is next to a pumpkin-spice candle, both placed on a silk scarf she adored. By the pungent flicker of the flame, I am awash in certainty that we are one. I wailed when my mom was dying and wondered: “Who will I be when my mother is gone?” Standing on the other side, I am happy to discover who that person is: I am my mother's daughter, an adult woman who will persevere. I could live another 40 years, and she prepared me well to make this voyage without her, however lonely it may get.

It's the first morning of June, and outside my kitchen window the pink of dawn glistens on the Severn River in Maryland. I hear my mother asking for coffee, with a trickle of skim milk and a half-teaspoon of sugar, the way she liked it. Making breakfast—slathering jam on toast and chopping cantaloupe—is when my mother feels most present, as I do what I watched her do for decades, a wet towel slung over her shoulder. I look at my hands, callused and large veined, rough from water and soap and children and time. They are my mother's hands. I want her here, right now, and I am starting to sniffle when my 17-year-old son, Theo, standing six feet four, kisses me on top of the head and requests scrambled eggs.

I stand on my toes, pull him to my neck in a hug, and am grateful I had a mother for so long and that there’s plenty of sweet life ahead.

Iris Krasnow is the author of I Am My Mother's Daughter: Making Peace With Mom Before It's Too Late (Perseus, 2006).

Hear the related interview with Iris on AARP Prime Time Radio

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