- Posted May 9, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
In praise of “other mothers”
Gifted Another Mother
Like most grown children living abroad, we both kept in touch with our parents via skype. "If you ever meet my mom in person," Gareth said, "you two will really hit it off." I joined him for a few skype calls home and true enough, his mother and I were both delighted to meet each other, albeit over the internet.
I had often imagined making that flight home with Gareth to meet his family in person, especially his mom. I imagined departing the plane after a long flight, and asking Gareth to watch the bags so I could step into the restroom and make myself presentable. I would be meeting the mother of my love, for crying out loud! I'd want to make a good impression! Make-up refreshed, hair combed, teeth brushed, I'd hold hands with Gareth as we walked through security. I'd scan the crowd for the woman whose face I knew from my boyfriend's computer screen and I'd walk quickly to her. We'd hug. We'd hug and we'd laugh and I'd compliment her son to her, as I did.
This is not how it would happen, the meeting of me and Gareth's mom- the mother of the man I loved more than I ever thought possible.
On the morning of March 3rd, 2014, in the waiting area of a hospital in Gyeongju, South Korea, I sat in an otherwise empty room and balanced a small mirror on my knees while I tried to apply makeup to my swollen eyes. Gareth's parents would be arriving any moment from New Zealand, accompanied by one of his coworkers who had made the 2-hour drive to Busan to pick them up from the airport. I hadn't showered since arriving at the hospital two days before and I had slept only painful moments off and on. I looked terrible. And I was not holding the hand of my love. "This is not supposed to be how I meet your parents," I thought, perhaps said out loud. "This is not supposed to be how it happens."
Gareth had fallen from a fourth floor window in the early hours of March 1st and was two sets of doors away from me. His parents would be stepping off of the elevator any moment. I had been warned by a well-meaning friend to prepare myself for the possibility of a cold greeting. I had, as painful as it is to admit, asked Gareth for some space- the result of which was a series of events that led to his fall. It's possible, I was told, that his parents would not want to see me. It's possible, I was warned, that I'd be blamed.
The elevator made a ding, the doors slid open, and there before me were the faces of Gareth's family; his mother, his father, and one of his three brothers. I couldn't have known at this moment that Gareth was gifting me with another mother. Her name is Olwyn Lochhead.
Mothers have a way of seeing the whole picture and not assigning blame. Olwyn did this for me. Mothers are able to not set aside their own grief, but share it with those they love, those who are also experiencing great sadness. Olwyn did this for me. Mothers wrap children in their arms, tell them they are beautiful, tell them how grateful they are to have them as a part of their life. Olwyn did this and continues to do this for me.
Gareth died that evening at 11:10 p.m., March 4, 2014. Olwyn had invited me to stay with them that evening and in the days that followed while we attended to all of the things that need attending to after someone dies, and some things we could have never anticipated attending to as a result of experiencing a traumatic death in a foreign country.
In that week, my memories of extreme loss are woven in with memories of being cared for. Of being mothered. Of hot tea being made and handed to me in a mug. "Here, drink this. It will make you feel better." Of long talks standing in the kitchen long after the others had gone to bed. Of goodnight hugs and goodnight kisses and wishes to sleep well. Of "You must try to eat something. Your own mother would want you to." Of eggs being cooked and toast being covered in honey.
I have memories of sharing with her stories of her son. Joyful stories. And watching her light up in the way only a mother can. I have memories of her assuring me I did the right thing and calling me a gift in her son's life. "You beautiful girl!" she'd say. "You are such a beautiful girl. Oh, I just love you!" These are words of a mother.
I can't impress upon you how important this was for me to have a mother when I was so incredibly far away from my own mom. No child wants to experience hurt without the comfort of their mother and no mother wants to watch their child suffer miles away without being able to do anything about it. To complicate the separation from my own mom, we had been trying time and time again to skype from the moment Gareth's parents arrived, but had been unable to do so. I believe now this was because I was meant to be with my other mother. I needed her. And she needed me. The best of mother-daughter relationships are reciprocal.
When I was finally able to get in touch with my mom, it was while sorting through Gareth's belongings in his apartment with his parents and brother. Here I was standing next to his bed, my arm wrapped around my other mother while seeing the face of my real mother on the screen of my phone which I held out before me. My mom was weeping. We were all weeping. "I am so grateful to you," my mom said to Olwyn, "for being there to mother Bridget when I can't be." And then like two proud mothers, they traded words about how wonderful I am. How loved I am. How special I am. A double-dose of mothering, and I wrapped myself in it there in my boyfriend's soon to be empty room.
At the end of the week, my other mother returned home to New Zealand with her husband and son and the ashed of her oldest son, my sweet love, Gareth. She would join her other two boys at home and begin the task of attending to all that needed done there. I installed a chat program on my phone that Olwyn and I use to send messages to each other, almost daily. Voice messages, text messages, pictures of a vast and beautiful New Zealand sky or a finally green and blooming South Korea. We trade photos of ourselves and our friends. We document walks we take alone and meals we'd like to share with the other. We are connected, and always will be, I am sure.
In June I will fly home to St. Louis to be taken in the arms of my own wonderful mother, Mary. She will fix me tea and listen to my stories and tell me I am beautiful. I am wonderful. I am strong and I will get through this. And of course, I will. I have two mothers helping me to do so.
Gareth gifted me with many things in the time he was here. Hardly a week passed by when I wasn't presented with poems (he was an amazing writer), or flowers hand picked from the side of the road or arranged in a vase from a florist, or funny little gifts that he saw and thought of me. It's no surprise to me that in his passing he'd leave me with the most amazing gift I could imagine- the gift of his mom. My other mother.