I can feel my daughter’s easy breath rise and fall in the bed next to me.
She is fourteen.
But not the fourteen I remember being, all insecurity and self-loathing.
She does not dance for her dinner as I did at her age–looking to please, hoping someone other might hand over a manageable definition of how to live a good life.
Instead Lucy comes out of the bathroom declaring every day a “good hair day” and laughs a breathless sort of hysteria every early evening. The 5 pm fall-out, it has been dubbed.
She and I have been lightly tracing a route of my mother took with her own daughter through the south of France two decades ago.
No, I was not the daughter.
Not because my mother didn’t ask, but because I couldn’t be bothered. More to the point, I was twenty-four and had just discovered my mother’s choices bothered me. I had begun what would eventually become a decade of therapy. Imperfect boundaries between me and my family of origin, seemed the only hope of claiming an intentional life of my own choices and mistakes.
I still regret my utter hubris in believing there would obviously be another chance — as if time is owed to us.
That I even have a living, breathing fourteen-year-old daughter, but not a living breathing mother still astounds me.
My daughter looks to me to make decisions, keep her safe, and guide things–it seems ill advised at times, frankly.
It’s an honor, and it’s exhausting, and I know for sure I did not look to my mother in quite the same way.
My daughter and I went to all my mother’s favorite places–St. Paul de Vance, Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon. We ate bread and brie for dinner, got lost and checked in late. We saw sunrises and sunsets, swam in pools and the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea. We even stole wisteria seed pods from an ancient chateau when nobdy was looking.
Today is the 3rd anniversary of my mother’s death.
I understand she died. I no longer wake up to the three seconds of forgetting until the undertow of grief pulls me back to reality. I know she is dead, I just find I still can’t believe it most days. It seems insanity that I have lived three years without her, even though it is precisely true.
I will not get to share my mother-daughter trip to France with my mother, the way she shared hers with me.
I do not get to make a “we’re back, let me tell you everything phone call.”
I will never regale my mother with the story of the young couple who moved from Geneva to renovate the old chateau where we stayed. I won’t explain my delight that they somehow managed to serve me her exact strawberry jam from my childhood. More soup than spread, they’d replicated her critical balance between fruit and sugar. When I dipped the end of my baguette into the streak of red on my plate I time travelled to the early morning heat of our yellow farmhouse. A Helman’s mayonnaise jar with the label steamed off, brimming full with gleaming ruby-red sweetness. My mother didn’t bother to properly preserve–with six kids, the jam never lasted that long. Our little fingers collected the hundreds of berries that grew in a chaotic smattering across the side yard. My mother worked her magic and we each got to sweep sticky, jammy slashes of sweetness across two slices of hot toast. My mother spent half the morning using her long elegant fingers to dig out the abandoned the butter knife that slipped beneath sea of jam.
Though she protested, begging us to leave the knife on a plate, I often caught her smiling and sucking on her long fingernails later in the day.
“For a minute I could taste our childhood.” I would have told her though I am still not sure if she would hear the bittersweet in any of my words.
“Its amazing what you remember,” she would reply.
I tried to live our France trip through my mother’s eyes–the way I imagine she may have. To honor her, yes.
But she has honored me back.
Because this time, I don’t just miss her.
I feel her. I feel like her.
A life time of wondering what she was thinking, I am stunned to discover I think I finally have a sense of what she may have been feeling.
I am living the middle space of being her child, and my own children’s mother.
It’s sticky, and sweet, and I am grateful for all of it.
Miss you, mommy. And I will for the rest of my life.
Meghan Riordan Jarvis, MA, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and grief and loss who works in private practice in Washington, DC. After experiencing PTSD after the deaths of both of her parents within two years of each other, Meghan started the platform “Grief is My Side Hustle” which includes her popular writing on Medium, links to her podcast under the same name, and her free writing workshop “grief mates.” Meghan’s memoir “The End of The Hour” publishes with Zibby Books in 2024