“Mommy, are you happy?” She asks this of me more times than I would like to admit in the last six months. As tears stream down my face, I assure her that I am ok and sometimes I am sad and miss “Amma”. I let her know that it is ok to be sad and it is alright to cry.
Sometimes, she tells me that Amma was crying in the chair and that she is sick. This time, I look at her and she hugs me. I wipe my face and smile squeezing her tight. I thank her and let her know that I love her very much. I feel her empathy wrap around every inch of me. I look her in the eyes again and I see my reflection.
Wise beyond her two-and-a-half years, she is an empath, she is me. Realizing this makes me smile. I ask her if she is happy. She responds, “Yes, I happy.” She goes back to swaddling and changing her babies, not giving it another thought.
My mama, the strongest woman I know, passed away from cancer this year. In my 40 years of life, I seldom ever saw my mother cry. Even in her last months, after the surgery claimed her voice box, she still mothered and encouraged me.
As she transitioned, I sobbed at my mother’s bedside letting her know that I did not know how to live without a mother. Telling her how selfish I was and that I was not ready for her to leave. She’d touch my hand and tell me (through writing) I would be fine, reminding me of how much time we shared since her last cancer surgery. I asked her if she was scared. Each time she assured me she was not afraid, smiling while squeezing my hand.
Through these conversations, I still seldom saw tears. It was not until her last days that I remember seeing tears in her eyes. Unable to speak and unable to write made it even more painful wondering what she must have been thinking.
I am sure my mother cried. She had to cry. It was not something she chose to do in front of her children– to show such vulnerability and admit that life was not always the happy reality where we dwelled.
The only memories I have of my mother as a small child are ones of sheer joy and adventure. As a teen and as an adult she was my stability, my best friend and my voice of reason. What I admired most about my mother was her unapologetic personality. She was loyal, passionate, empathetic, strong-willed and wild at heart. This is what she claimed she also loved about me.
After my mother passed, I carried much shame and guilt. For crying too often. For not being the present and loving mother I desired. And mostly, that my daughter saw me like this and she would not view me in the same way I viewed my own mother.
I wanted her to think I was strong, carefree, kind and passionate. I wanted her to know that nothing would stop me from being that one stable person in her life that she deserved. I wanted to reflect the type of woman I hope she would choose to emulate.
And then it occurred to me as she hugged me that day– I was not scarring her for life or stunting her brain development, nor was I failing as a mother in general. I was using my grief to show my daughter that crying was not a weakness, that being sad was not shameful. It was simply a feeling and a reaction to my feeling of loss; one which was valid and healthy. And she was entitled to feel, as was I.
I still have waves of grief and my baby girl still asks me if I am happy. I remind her that sometimes we are sad and sometimes we cry. I let her know that both are valid feelings and I try and remember to always validate and help her identify her feelings.
She still hugs me and through my tears and I still smile. We are empathic twinsies. I cherish these times as much as the simple joys of everyday life that we share. I love that my vulnerability does not carry shame and guilt anymore. To show her strength and what that looks like, with or without tears, and to have this time to remember “Amma” together.
About the Author
Rachel Rainforth is the mama of Talulah and two toddler-sized cats. A storyteller, social worker, birth doula, and crusader of social justice.