My daughter and I shuffle carefully over the bridge. She is still trying to figure out how to maintain her balance while she walks. Each step is equal parts small yet deliberate. Slowly, we make progress. She is almost there but still she needs me and my one finger, more to mentally reassure her than anything else.
Just one week shy of my 7th Mother's Day as a Mother, I am standing inside the circle of seven years without my own mother today. And from such a strange vantage point as it always has been from nearly the moment I became a mother, it strikes me how much both grief and motherhood are exactly like this: slow but deliberate steps forward.
Each year at this time, the blogosphere is filled with pieces about what we've learned from our mothers. I've written extensively about the wonderful lessons I learned growing up with my mother. But not every lesson we learn from our mothers happens when they are living. Only now, seven years inside the circle of grief, does it occur to me that one of the biggest lessons she taught me is that a mother's love is not in any way limited to the span of her life.
I look down at my daughter and wonder. Long after I'm gone, will she still feel me? When there is no one to quite literally grasp on to, how will she find her balance? How will she steady herself?
As we walk we pass a mother and a boy that she is pulling in a wagon going in the opposite direction on the bridge, the boy calls out, "What's your baby's name?"
"Her name is Hope," I call back, as we both continue in opposite directions. And indeed she is just that.
It is this cyclical nature of daughters becoming somebody else's mothers which fills me with a kind of hope for the future, enabling me to continue forward. It makes less painful the notion that there are no arms outstretched to encircle me if I can reach out and bring three little ones inside my own grasp. It is in this space where I inherit the world she once filled and where I find peace. That is love. That is her love. And it never dies.
Hope keeps trying to turn around and look for the boy in the wagon. But I whisper to her, you cannot go back. You must go forward. Inside I know this is true and has little to do with our passage on the bridge. I point to her daddy and brother and sister. "Let's go toward them!" I shout encouragingly, and we toddle along together slowly making our way.
She wobbles and steadies herself. She holds tight to my finger. The sun is high and her grasp is strong. The opportunity to be her mother will be finite, but my love for her will not. Long after I disentangle from her grip, I know she will still feel me.