How my mother's love lives on, 25 years after she took her last breath

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Every now and then I walk in to the bathroom, catch a sideways glimpse in the mirror and recognise someone I have not seen in 25 years. It's been happening for a while now but, as I get closer to the age my mother was when she died, the likeness of my reflection to the memory I have of her is taking me by surprise more often.

My mum was just 49 when she took her last breath in a Sydney hospital room in the early hours of December 30, 1993. My father, brother and I were by her side.

I was 20 and, like most young women only just out of their teens, did not see much of my mother in myself back then. I loved her with all my heart, there's no doubt about that, and was devastated when the evil that is cancer stole mum from us just six weeks after diagnosis. 

But my life was all about friends, fun and building my career after landing my first job in the industry I was desperate to work in. My mum's focus was family - right until the end.

In one of our final mother-daughter chats, before increased doses of morphine to ease her pain made sensible conversation difficult, my devoted mother's thoughts were not of herself or the truly awful cards she had been dealt months short of her 50th birthday. Family was still the first thing on her mind.

"I'll never know my grandchildren," my mother sobbed. I tried to comfort her as best as I could, but babies of my own were the furthest thing from my mind at that point and I didn't really comprehend the enormity of what my mother was saying.

Now, a quarter of a century later and as a mother of two young boys, I understand my mother's distress at being robbed of the role of grandmother. It breaks my heart my two sons never got to meet my mother and be showered with her love and care the way I was as a child.

However, just as I recognise her in my reflection in the bathroom mirror from time to time, I have come to see similarities between the mother I have become and the woman who raised me.

I see it as I work full-time, as my mother did, but move heaven and earth to be there for  important school assemblies so that my boys don't miss seeing my face in the crowd during their moment on stage - just like I smiled when I saw my mum in the audience. 

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I feel it in the happiness cheering from the sidelines of my sons' soccer games brings me on a Saturday morning - just as my mother loved screaming "tackle him!!" while watching my brother's junior rugby league games each weekend.

I hear it in my voice when I say to my sons, "I always love you even though I really don't like the way you are behaving right now." It's a line I remember my mother using, thankfully not too often, in my teenage years.

Mostly I recognise it at the end of the day when, as exhausted as I am from a day of work and parenting, I will often sit up for an hour or so after the kids are in bed just to have a moment to myself.  I remember many times as a child getting up for a glass of water well after bedtime and finding my mother asleep in the loungeroom, sitting in an armchair with a half empty cup of tea beside her. I didn't get it then, but I do now.

So while I will continue to shed tears because my children were cruelly denied their grandmother's love, I will also take comfort from the fact her motherly influence lives on through me. And if it takes being a little surprised from time to time when I recognise the reflection in the bathroom mirror to remind me of that, then so be it.