I ride to the cemetery with my step-sister’s daughter, a red-headed beauty who always makes me feel included. My step-brother’s daughter is sitting in the back with her husband and they are all sharing memories. Their beloved grandmother passed away 2 days ago, and although though she was 90 years old, it was sudden and unexpected.
She was my step-mother and I loved her. She was married to my father for 36 years and we had a warm relationship, even after losing my father 15 years ago. But I live in California, and I never really thought of her as a mother.
My real mother died when I was 14. My father remarried a few years later, he sold our home and we moved in with her family. She had also been widowed, but her children adored my dad. The bond grew stronger as my step-siblings got married and had kids of their own. He loved the grandchildren, and took pride in caring for their emotional and financial needs.
When we get to the cemetery we stop at the mortuary to see if my step-sister and her husband have arrived. It’s hot and muggy, and my hair is starting to frizz like it used to when I lived in New York. I feel like such an outsider among this group of step relatives. But they were my father’s family and I’ve come to pay my respects.
When we get to the burial site I look for my mother’s grave. She is buried next to my father, and now my step-mother will be on his other side. Her first husband is also buried there, and she’ll be placed between them. I know–one big happy family. But I can’t find my mother’s gravestone and I suddenly start to panic.
I leave the group of mourners and see a large pile of dirt that’s has been dug up in preparation for the new grave. I brush the orange clay dirt away with my fingertips, and slowly my mother is revealed: Janet Horowitz… Beloved Wife and Mother… forgotten by her husband, forsaken by her daughter who never learned to talk about her or grieve for her loss. And once again I become that lonely girl of 14, looking down at my mother’s grave in utter disbelief.
“Mommy, why did you leave me? Why did you never hold me close enough or love me the way I needed you to? Why did I have to struggle without a family, while they got Daddy? How did she wind up getting 90 years, when you only got 44? Where were you when I was left to figure it out on my own?”
My heart is broken, but I dig up a stone from the ground and put it on my mother’s grave to let her know I was here. “I love you mommy, and I will until the day I die…promise!” With tears dripping from my eyes, I join the other mourners to honor my step-mother, the love of my father’s life.
Sydell Weiner, Ph.D.