“Mirror Mirror on the wall, I’m my mother after all.”
It happened just the other day when I went into the downstairs bath to get a tissue. I looked into the mirror as is my habit and I saw her. My mother staring back at me. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen traces of her in my smile or my jowls. Yet this time her entire face was looking at me through my eyes.
At 56, I look like my memory’s version of my mother at the same age. You know, the one that shows up in the reflection during the unguarded moments when you’re thinking you really should skip the afternoon Starbucks run and get back to your writing. When my mother was 56, I was 24. Younger than my own sons now.
I was cocksure I knew what the world had in store for me when I was 24. Marriage, career, family—two, maybe three kids. Broad strokes of what life would look like, waiting for the pages to fill in as the years rolled by. And I was right, I do have those things.
What I couldn’t predict back then was how much I would miss having Mom to share the gap between 38 and 56. She died way too early in 1996 from the ravages of liver cancer. This sweet, funny and at times sassy woman of faith was taken from our family swiftly—two months from diagnosis to death. The giant gaping hole in my universe from her death has filled in some. You have to lay the sorrow to rest if you want to get on with life. I know if she were sitting beside me today, she’d say something comforting like, “Well, Tory, that’s what life gives you. Remember the happy times and I’ll always be there with you.”
Maybe the bonus of getting older is how much I appreciate my mother. Her insights and wisdom escaped me in my youth yet settle in as I age. One day, I realized the line that separated us has woven into my own life. Though we can no longer talk in person, the deep well of Mom’s knowing lies within. Her gentle teachings and whispers of endearments forever burned into my heart. When one ends, the other carries on.
Mom has been with me through the pages of my life since she passed. She was ringside at each son’s concert, art show, performance, horse show and graduations. I’m sure she was giving me courage to face the illness that threatened Alex the summer he was 11. Holding my hand at the gravesites of Mark’s parents. Shouting surprise at my 40th and 50th birthday parties. Reflecting on the joy of our wedding day at our 30th anniversary surprise celebration.
When Alex and Adam came out, she was there guiding me to accept the news. Nothing changes the love for your children, though your heart might grieve some for the dreams of the future you’d hoped for. I can certainly feel her joy radiating through the happiness Adam has found with his Adam. Mom would have loved other Adam. He’s Stone family material through and through. She’d have wept with me to learn Alex’s story of hurt from his own first love. And cheered “All right!” as Alex made his way into wholeness through his art.
I had imagined conversations with her when I struggled with career choices. Remembering her last advice that October from the pink arm chair in the back room of my childhood home on the St. Lawrence River. “No amount of money is more important than being happy and enjoying your life.”
Now, here I am, setting off on a new course of writing. For living (and maybe a living). Telling the stories of my family and thoughts on the world shaped through my family’s love. Mom always believed I’d be published one day. That’s the voice I will listen to more often than not when my wily inner critic says, ”nah, not gonna happen.” I will look into the mirror the day I hold my printed book in my hand, conjuring Mom from the great beyond. I will smile her smile. Nod with that quick little head tilt and pump my right fist in the air repeating “Allll righhht!”