Without a mother, I can’t enjoy Mother’s Day

Lori Hadacek Chaplin’s mother, Sharon, on her wedding day, with her mother (left) and mother-in-law (right). Photo courtesy of Lori Hadacek Chaplin.
Lori Hadacek Chaplin’s mother, Sharon at age 52, holding baby Ella. Photo courtesy of Lori Hadacek Chaplin.

Even though my four children spoil me on Mother’s Day, this day is always tinged with sadness for me because my mom, Sharon, passed away nearly seven years ago. She died from breast cancer two months shy of her 70th birthday. Mother’s Day always reminds me how there’s an empty space in my heart. It’s not that I feel disconnected from Mom. On the contrary, it’s that I have an ache to converse with her — to share with her how much I have grown to understand her.

She died the month after I turned 43. I was too young — am too young — to have lost a mother. Some people in their 40s still have their grandmothers let alone their moms — I have neither. There’s so much that I did not get to share with my mom.

I mourn that three of my children barely knew her. My youngest, Max, was 11 months when she died. He only knows Mom through the many stories I tell about her. She was known for her delicious cooking, strong opinions on what matters most in life, and generosity of time and talent.

Mom in the mirror

As my 50th birthday looms, I see my mother’s face when I look in the mirror. I glimpse her mannerisms in me, too. My eldest daughter, Ella, and I laugh when I do or say something that reminds us of her.

Mom was always cooking, so she had this habit of leaving a smudge of olive oil, a smear of chocolate, a blob of rising bread dough on newspapers, birthday cards, library books, or important documents. I recall being irked and exclaiming numerous times, “Mom! You got food on _______.” You fill in the blank, and it’s probably true.

Recently, I was making a chocolate cake for a fundraiser, and Ella stopped by. I said to her, “Look at these beautiful Mother’s Day cards that we’ll be offering after Mass.”

Ella gasped and pointed out, “You got a chocolate thumbprint on the card!” She shakes her head, “You’re just like Grandma! You’re morphing into her.”

Though I am a bit chagrined about the thumbprint, her friendly accusation seems like a compliment to me. Becoming like my mother makes me feel like a piece of her is alive in me, and we understand each other.

An age difference of 26 years

Like my mom and me, there’s a 26-year-age difference between Ella and me. When I was 23, the same age as Ella, I cherished my mom, but I didn’t fully understand her.  It wasn’t my fault; I hadn’t lived long enough. Now when I think of all of the things she told me and all of the things that happened in her life, I see her through a fresh lens. There was much that I took for granted about our relationship and the confidences she shared with me.

I now understand what it’s like to love a grown-up child and to know that she needs me less. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that she’s a success. I just missed the days when I was her world.

I understand what it’s like to watch my youth slip away and to become invisible — unless you’re a famous movie star, there’s nothing more invisible than a woman past her early 40s. I especially feel the invisibility when I am out with my beautiful daughter (soon it will be two beautiful daughters as my 12-year-old Gemma is too quickly leaving behind childhood) who attracts attention.

It doesn’t bother me, I know that my mom experienced the same thing when she was my age and I was in my 20s. This invisibility is not necessarily a bad thing.  I’ve learned that it frees me up to be the real me and to think less of myself and more of others. I wish I could share this discovery with Mom. I know that she would say, “Lori, now you know,” and shake her head a little smugly, but not unkindly.

Taking a seat

Mom struggled with her weight her whole life. During her youth and 20s, she was reed thin when being curvy was fashionable. When she got curvy, skin and bones became the style. She was never obese; she was just overweight on and off for most of the last three decades of her life.

I recall being at a mall in Minneapolis shopping for clothes, and my mom, who was in her late 50s at the time, told me that she no longer cared much for clothes. She only wanted to look respectable for church. Dressing nicely for Mass was one of her ways of showing honor to Our Lord.

She found a chair in the store while I shopped.

Being a clothes horse when I was younger, I didn’t connect with what she was saying. Clothes were for making me look attractive. Now, I say the same thing to my daughter, Ella: “I just want to look nice for church.”

As I battle weight gain and aging, I get to experience my mom’s struggles. I realize what she must have felt like when she went shopping with me because I experience it when I shop with Ella, who’s the younger, slenderer version of me.

Now I find a chair while Ella shops.

From me-focused to faith-focused

Like Mom, my faith is the center of my life. There are a lot of stats about how fathers are the ones to pass on the faith. While my dad was a dedicated churchgoer, it was my mom who catechized me in a time when young people went to catechism classes where the curriculum was kumbaya, Care Bears, and rainbows. She hungrily read the lives of the saints to learn how they loved Christ. She was well versed in Church teaching on faith and morals, and she liked to talk about Church politics.

Whether I was interested or not, she would read snippets of books to me, or she would recount the stories. I am indebted to her for forming me in my faith and instilling in me a love for God and his Church.

My mom was very involved in her parish, St. James. She was in her early 40s when she started taking organ lessons because there weren’t enough organists to play for Mass. She got past her nerves and played and persevered even when her start was rocky — she was brave. Mom headed up the parish turkey dinner fundraiser for years. I also remember her planning respect life events at our church, teaching CCD, and helping at funeral dinners.

While I always made my Sunday obligation, I never thought I would want to do more than sit in the pew. Though it took longer than it should have, her example has motivated me to be active in my parish. I understand why my mom was so involved, and why she stepped out of her comfort zone. It’s because it’s rewarding to do things for others and to be a part of a community.

Mom deserved the last laugh

Sometimes I feel like a heavy weight is sitting on my heart when I think about how much I want to tell my mom, face-to-face, that I finally understand her. I want to commiserate and laugh with her about how I am walking in her shoes — feeling the ironies of life — and sometimes it seems like the joke is on me, and Mom is having the last laugh.

I ponder on how my daughters, Ella and Gemma, will understand me better someday. I pray that they will get to know me long enough to share their discoveries with me.

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