' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Remembering my mother on the anniversary of her death

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Remembering my mother on the anniversary of her death

My mother in her twenties
Fourteen years ago today my mother died. For many years we had a difficult time as mother and daughter.  I did not want to grow up to be like my mother for I did not want to be a housewife, and I knew this from a very early age--like five. So I generally rebelled when it came to learning how to do home ec kinds of things--such as sewing (which she was very good at), and cooking (until I could do it on my own). I felt in so many ways like such a disappointment to her. I know she wished we could have been closer during my teenage years, but instead we argued and, when I was at home, I stayed locked up in my room, reading.

But though she did not fully understand at first the kind of woman I would grow up to be, when I look back I see how she encouraged me all along. When my father said, Girls don't go to college, she took my side. So instead of home ec, I was able to sign up for Latin and algebra in high school. When my father couldn't imagine that I really was going to go to college, she drove me to the interview and we did not tell my father. When I was accepted, I shared the news with her, and her alone. After my father had a
heart attack when he was 50, he wanted me to drop out of school and help make the mortgage payments on the small motel they owned then. Times were tough, I'll grant you that. For better or worse, with her help, I resisted, and managed to stay in college. We got by, the motel was eventually sold, lifting a great weight from my father and mother, and ultimately, me.

Though she and my father ganged up on me in my sophomore year--I should drop journalism and switch to teaching or nursing--but after I won that battle she encouraged me when, at the end of my junior year, I ran for editor-in-chief of the college daily. There had never been a female-in-chief of The Daily Collegian at Wayne State University, and there wasn't one at the end of 1964 either. Instead, I became the paper's first female second-in-command, or managing editor. My mother hated when I left home to work on a newspaper in another city, but in the end, she went through the house and gave me enough household items as if I'd had a wedding shower. And less than a year later, she helped me move again when I got a better job in Rochester, New York, and moved even farther from Detroit.

My mother in a silly hat, with granddaughters and great granddaughter
She was a wonderful tailor, and made gorgeous clothes for me from Vogue patterns, dresses and suits that I wore to work for the first couple of years, when I got home often enough for fittings. And in time, I did teach myself how to cook and found that I enjoyed baking just as much as she did. Among my friends today, I am the one usually asked to make a dessert when we have dinner parties, because everyone knows I am a baker and a pie maker. She did teach me how to iron a shirt, do fancy embroidery, and sew an invisible stitch for hemming pants and skirts. I still do it today.

We became close after I left home. I talked to her once a week, usually sometime on Saturday or Sunday. She was a brick, to use that old description, when I told her about the daughter I'd given up for adoption, and that I was going to go public. She said she thought that anyone who was adopted must want to know who they came from, and if I could help make that happen for them, she was going to stand by me. At the time, she was living in a senior apartment complex, and she knew the gossips in the building would have at it. When my memoir Birthmark came out in 1979, it was extremely controversial and got quite a bit of publicity in Detroit. I am sure that she took some heat from her neighbors, but she never complained. She was proud of me. She was thrilled when I found my daughter, and overjoyed when she met her, and later, my daughter's daughter, the blonde girl in the photo above.

My mother, Victoria, died of congestive heart failure at 86, a month after having a triple bypass operation that she did not want. She was in a lot of pain from arthritis, and took pain killers every day for a number of years. After the surgery, she never came back to her own place again. I knew she was ready to go--she told me many times she prayed not to wake up in the morning, she told me that when she went in for the heart surgery, she prayed that she would not wake up. I knew it was time.

Tony and I had planned a ten-day trip to the Caribbean that was scheduled before her surgery. She urged us not to change our plans, and go. Every time I came back from the beach, I looked for a fax under the door, but she did not die then. I was back East about a week when the phone call came around 10:30 in the morning, Saturday, May 1st. We left a few hours later for Detroit to bury her.

Fourteen years have gone by. Those little girls in the picture are in or out of college. The blonde one is my granddaughter, the other two are my nieces. And I still miss my mother dearly, deeply. I think about her often, how I'd still like to pick up the phone and share something with her.

This last week I had an IM exchange with a woman who cut her natural mother out of her life nine years ago when it was too much. Her adoptive parents were deeply unhappy that "their" daughter had connected with her other mother, and trying to tiptoe through everyone's adoption angst led the woman to eliminate her natural mother. Now she wanted to reconnect. I urged her to make the call. Ultimately, she had to reach her mother through Facebook because her mother's old phone number had been disconnected. Her mother told her to give her a few days to adjust. It's hard to have the mother and child bond severed/reconnected/severed/reconnected again, but I fervently hope the woman is up to it. Life is fleeting. What's possible today may not be tomorrow.--lorraine
Gardenias were my mother's favorite flower. I carried them at my wedding to Tony, I wore them at our 25th wedding anniversary party.


  1. That is a nice tribute to your mom. She sounds like a great lady, one with with depths of understanding. I understand why you must why miss her. A loving accepting parent is a great resource of strength.

    Gardenias were my mothers favorite flowers too. It was a period thing I think.

  2. I ended up loving gardenias myself.
    But boy, those gardenia bushes are picky picky and hard to keep alive in a regular house in the winter.

  3. What a lovely tribute to your mother. I have always liked and admired her because she accepted Jane and her great-grandchildren right away. She had the right values. Family is family, and should be there for one another no matter how they came to be. I love that she didn't get caught up in the pettiness and the stupidness of "what will the neighbors think."

    I think Jane resembles your mother more than she does you, Lorraine. It is so cool the way genes dance around and skip generations. I never thought I looked much like my n-mother, but I do see a resemblance with my maternal aunt and grandmother.

    Off Topic, but another update from my 'adoption is everywhere' file. I just read in People magazine a story about David Tutera, host of My Fair Wedding, and his husband. It seems they are divorcing after ten years of marriage but have twins on the way, via surrogate, who are due in July. These poor children, they aren't even born yet and they are already the subject of a messy custody battle. Of course, heterosexual couples of a biological baby-to-be could also divorce before the child's birth. But at least in that case, the child will know and be co-parented by his natural parents, rather than being carried by a surrogate for money and not necessarily having any biological relationship to his 'parents' at all.


  4. Robin: Oddly enough, I was just writing about that aspect of her--how she never said, Don't do this, what will the XYZ think? My mother was even with me once when a TV reporter tried to scald me as the cameras rolled. Young blonde woman, a few years younger than me, or about the same age, in Windsor, Canada, across the river from Detroit, when Birthmark came out. I assumed the woman was either adopted or an adoptive mother. There was no way she was uninvolved. Or I suppose she could have been a mother who relinquished and wanted to convince herself that mothers had no rights to think about their children. The world is complex.

  5. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of shared love and experience. It is great to have a relationship like that, to have a mother in your corner who supports you even though Algebra and Latin are not her thing. Beautiful.

    Yes, life is fleeting, too short to waste on petty disagreements, and lies, and mistrust. Sad that people do such things to each other. Adoption casts a long shadow, though.

    Much love to you, Lorraine.

  6. Beautiful post Lorraine and loved the pics! Much love.



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