I love my mother dearly but our relationship was often a struggle. She fought for control of nearly every aspect of my life, and I had to battle for my independence. I was never the daughter who talks to her mother every day, several times a day, or one to tell her every detail about daily life. Our relationship had many ups and downs, including several periods when my mother and I didn’t communicate at all.
Today, however, my relationship with my mother has never been better. She passed away in 2004.
Some experts believe our relationships with our parents continue after their death. I became parentless in 2004, and, as an adult orphan, I have found that to be somewhat true.
According to one expert, Jeanne Safer, author of “Death Benefits,” the relationship with one’s deceased parents not only continues, it becomes more fulfilling and rewarding, because the relationship then is maintained on the survivor’s terms.
After one’s parents are gone, the son or daughter left behind obviously then has more control over the parent/child relationship, and, according to Safer, the relationship actually improves. It sounds unbelievable, but I’ve experienced it.
Helping me to maintain a posthumous relationship with my parents is an extensive collection of family photographs. Fortunately, my grandfather was an avid amateur photographer, long before cameras were a household item, so there are hundreds of family photographs to enjoy, dating from the 1940s to present.
Looking into my parents’ faces and seeing them in happy times, alive and well, helps me to feel that their spirits live on. I study the images closely, as I no longer have the luxury of sitting across the table with either of my parents, or sharing a meal, an experience, a laugh, or a hug.
My mother and father also left behind a few special possessions that enable me to feel connected and maintain a “relationship” of sorts. From my father: a pocket watch, a Rotary club pin, a desk he built, and his wedding ring that I wear every day.
My mother left behind several collectibles, and baubles. Among the most sentimental is a large cocktail cluster ring that she inherited from her mother. My mom wore it every day after my grandmother passed away, even though the ring is oversized and quite fancy, with its glittering diamonds and sapphires.
When I inherited the ring, I was apprehensive about wearing it. I told myself: It’s not me…. It’s too big… I’m too young… Something might happen to it.
It also seemed inappropriate to wear during the day, or anywhere other than a formal occasion.
I love shiny objects, but this ring was a bit much, even for me, though as long as I can remember this has been a special piece. The ring was my mom’s signature, like a part of her identity. It was always there, on that same finger, no matter what the occasion.
The sapphires are interspersed with diamonds. The contrasting dark blue fire from the sapphires dances off the bright white diamonds. The diamonds enhance the sapphires’ deep blue oceanic hue, and the juxtaposition of the colorful sapphires makes the diamonds more fiery.
Recently I found a photograph of my mother, which, at first glance, looks like any typical beach vacation photo: Mom lounging seaside in a beach chair, with umbrella, sun, sand, water… all like props. There’s a smile on her face, and a cocktail in her hand.
One minor detail of the photo caught my eye. There, on her right hand – the huge cocktail ring. Only my mother would accessorize a bathing suit with a large diamond and sapphire sparkler, at the beach. I knew she wore the ring daily, but I didn’t recall her wearing it to sit in the sun or swim in the ocean.
That ring was a connection between my mom and her mother. They, too, had a relationship full of ups and downs, squabbles and fights. We surmise that my grandmother, like my mother, suffered from depression periodically throughout her life. They both had personalities of extremes – laughter and joy and fun would suddenly give way to crying, anger and fighting, and then laughter again. There was not much in between the sky highs and the dark lows of their moods.
Today, the ring connects me with my mother. It is a constant reminder of her life, and the circle of life. Like the diamonds and sapphires passed on to me, we are mothers and daughters who both contrast and complement one another, depending on the setting and the context.
Since finding that vacation photo of my mom, the beach bum in a cocktail ring, I now wear the ring, daily.
Regardless of your relationship with your mother – no matter how affirming, how troubling, or how non-existent it is, your life will change when she is gone. At times you will do everything you can to be as unlike her as possible, and at other times you will try your hardest to feel closer and more connected to her.
The ring on my finger makes me feel connected to my mom, and helps me to continue my relationship with her. Even though the ring may be a bit too large and too formal, I no longer need an excuse or occasion to wear her trademark accessory.
Besides, life is short. There are no guarantees. If I don’t enjoy this beautiful family heirloom today, left to me by my mom, when will I?
© Andrea Clement Santiago
Andrea Clement Santiago is a career advice columnist, writer, and communications professional. Her background in medical sales, training, and healthcare recruiting led to her role as the Guide to Health Careers for About.com, an IAC company. She has contributed to books, journals, websites and has made media appearances on television and radio in her capacity as a healthcare career expert. She writes about her experience as an adult orphan on her blog, No Parents No Problem. Learn more about Andrea here. Follow Andrea on Twitter at @AndreaSantiago, or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Part 2 in a series on mother-daughter relationships.
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