Friday, October 2, 2009

My Mother's Touch

Every fall I feel my mother's presence. September marks the anniversary of her birth. She died in April of 2002, alone in the steam room at our local Y. She took to the steam room, as she did regularly, after her daily run, to relax a bit before heading to dinner with my daughter and son. She was found by a friend of mine, only minutes after her heart stopped beating.

I really miss her touch, even now. Her tender touch...the touch of her fingertips, the stroke of her hand across my face as she would gently push aside strands of stray hair from my eyes...her strong embrace and the reassurance that only a mother can give. "It's all gonna be okay, Molly. Trust me, girl. You'll be okay."

Only a few months after her death in the fall of 2002, I remember so vividly, even now, showing up to coach a group of girls in Girls on the Run. Thirteen bright and enthusiastic girls anxiously awaited their first day in our program. I walked up to them, all of us so full-up with anticipation. Seven years prior, I had started Girls on the Run. I remember walking up to the original thirteen little girls at this same location--nervous and unsure of myself but fully convinced that something powerful was about to occur. Many of the thirteen on THIS day in 2002 were younger sisters of that inaugural class. One of those was an innocent and wide-eyed Sarah. "I recognize you," I said. "I know your sister, Katy."

"How did you know she was my sister?" she asked.

"You look just like her, only you are you." Sarah smiled at me and skipped ahead to join the girls ahead of her.

Sarah was a lot like her sister, Katy. She appeared unfocused--somewhat disconnected from herself, with a strange, detached smile tucked neatly and quizzically between the corners of her mouth. Her big sister Katy, had been like that. Katy used to walk next to me--as close as she possibly could without actually getting in the way--always helpful and always with that smile--awkward, mournful and beautiful all at the same time.

It was the fall of 1996. I was coaching my first season of Girls on the Run. Katy's mother called me. "I'm going to the hospital for a few days. I just can't shake this depression that's eating me up inside. I wanted you to know because Katy feels a real connect with you. And while I'm completely useless as her mother right now, I need others who can stand in to support her."

"Of course I'll support her," I replied. "But is there anything I can do for YOU?"

I was humbled by this woman's willing vulnerability. "No," she cried. "There's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do."

Hearing the desperation in her voice, the crying out...I wanted to hold this woman--this mother--stroke her hair, embrace her, lift the mother-guilt from her shoulders, and tell her that everything would be all right. "There is nothing you can do," she told me. "Nothing."

Katy continued to come to Girls on the Run--brought there by her grandmother, babysitters, and occasionally her father. Her mother was in the hospital for weeks.

Several years later, in March of 2002, I was at our Y. Seated on a couch in the ladies locker room Katy and Sarah's mom was there. "I'm working again now," she said. "I'm trying to quit smoking but having a tough go of it." She smiled that detached smile, as if she knew this was the point in the conversation when she was supposed to feel something. "I'm divorced and getting on with my life," she said. I sat down next to her, placed my hand on her shoulder, and told her how strong she was and how good it was to see her taking care of herself. Her eyes looked deeply into mine, as if begging me to make it so, to make her strong. "Tell Katy hey, would ya?" I asked her. "What grade is she in now, anyway?"

"She's in 9th grade now," she replied. "She misses you. This fall you'll meet my youngest, Sarah. She has been wanting to do Girls on the Run since her big sister did it." She smiled.

I went for my daily run, did my grocery shopping and went to work. I picked up my kids, squeezed them tight, kissed them on their cheeks and cooked dinner. Another ordinary day in March.

And now here was her youngest,Sarah, lined up side by side with her teammates. One of the Getting to Know Each Other exercises we play on our first day together is a game called the "I like Relay." The coach shouts, "If you like chocolate chip cookies, take off" and all those little girls who love chocolate-chip cookies fly around the assistant coach who is standing thirty years down the field or track. "If you think school is fun, take off." All but two ran. "If your parents are divorced, run on." Three girls took off.

Sarah was one of those. When she returned to her spot, she said. "My parents were divorced before my mom died."

I looked at this beautiful little girl. "Your mom died. I'm so sorry, Sarah." I asked the assistant coach to continue the game while I walked over to her. "Come with me a minute," The two of us walked a lap together. She talked animatedly about how school was going, what her big sister Katy was up to and what it was like now that her Mom was gone. When we finished that lap, I took her hands in mine and looked deeply into her eyes.For that moment the rest of the world ceased to exist and in this moment it was me and Sarah and the bond being formed between us.

"This past March, she suffocated, in her bed." Sarah could hold back the tears no longer and we sat there together, cross legged on the track, both of us with tears rolling down our cheeks, holding hands and being...together.

Eventually the silence came.

I flashed back to my March conversation with Sarah's mom, there on the couch at the Y, and wondered about the true circumstances of her death. I fondly caressed the memory of my own mother, often seated there on that same couch, after a long run, resting a moment or two before she slipped into the steam room. I held one of Sarah's hands in my one hand, brushed aside the strands of hair from her eyes, with my other, and told her "Honey, everything is going to be okay. Trust me girl. You're gonna be alright."

We sat quietly for several more minutes and then she said, "I guess I better get back to the group now."

And I said, "Yes, I guess you better." We walked back the last hundred yards, holding hands and missing our moms.

I miss my mother so much, her embrace, our early morning runs and her words of soft assurance, but oh how fortunate am I, to have the privilege to feel her love, embrace and comfort every time I spend time with the girls in our program.

It's all in the circle...the coming, the going and the rounding out. The soft, the tender, this moment and my mother's love. "Molly, it's all gonna be alright. Trust me girl. You're gonna be okay."


  1. Appreciated this post - I lost my mom in '05 (early onset Alzheimers - she died at 54). I miss her so much! Especially on those days when nothing else seems to be going right - kids are crazy, house is a mess, and I'm just worn out - I want my momma to tell me it's gonna be okay! There's nothing like a momma to tell you that! Anyway, good post. :)

  2. Oh Molly. You are so good at the rounding out. Beautifully written story.

    Mandy in VT