A Mother Gone, A Daughter Missing (part 2)

It’s been a few years since I wrote this piece, with help and approval from my mom, for a TBI survivors’ group. It is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’m resharing it now because we’ve finally written a happy ending of sorts to it. Here’s part two of what is now a 3 part post. Thanks, Mom, for your help with this.


My mom sat on the couch in our living room holding our newest baby. She kissed his downy black hair, lifted him to her shoulder and said, “I don’t understand your life. I don’t understand how you got here.”

I knew instantly what she meant – this wasn’t supposed to be the life I had. Her daughter was never supposed to be a stay-at-home mom with a litter of children. I had been raised by a forward-thinking woman who had praised the promises of freedom and prosperity held in a small package of birth control pills. I can’t even begin to guess how often had she uttered the words “the rich get richer and the poor have babies” to me. It was said in a half joking ruffle-my-hair tone, but the message was always clear – having children would tie me down; having a lot of children would guarantee me a life of struggle. She couldn’t imagine why I would choose such a hard path for myself. Why hadn’t I listened and learned?

I smiled at her and said “I know you don’t, Mom.” I lifted my sleeping son from her arms and said, “I know that he doesn’t make sense to you.”

She just shook her head and said, “This was never the plan we had for you, you and I. You should be in Congress by now.”

I think back to that conversation more often than I probably should. In anyone else’s mother, I would think those words were harsh and condemning. From my own mother, I know that they are honest. She doesn’t know how we got to this point.

When I was 14 years old, my mother suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When she awoke from the resulting coma, she had lost 7 years of my life. The teenage girl standing in front of her was a complete stranger, and had no connection to the little girl she remembered. While her brain has healed as much as it is going to, she still doesn’t have an intact and cohesive memory of those missing years. She describes what she does have as a collection of still photos and movie clips. She has said that she feels detached from the girl in those memories, the same way feels about a celebrity in a gossip magazine – she knows who all the players are but it doesn’t feel personal.

Her sense of disconnect is not helped by the fact that in the years that followed that event, I mostly lived somewhere other than with her. For a variety of reasons – some personal and some academic- I lived in the same house as my mother for what adds up to just over another two years total if you piece it all together. In the short amount of time that I lived in her house, she was not yet the woman she is today – she was mentally more on the level of a child or young teen and was not capable of being any kind of mother to me. (She freely admits this, in case you were wondering. I’m not telling tales out of school here.) When I was 18, I moved 12 hours away and it would be years before we spent more than a few days together in any given year.

We have talked of this often, my mother and I. On the days when she can articulate it, she says that she feels as if her daughter were stolen from her at age 7…kidnapped…and that somehow she was handed back a woman in her early 20’s, fully formed and already engaged to be married. I had made the unfathomable decision to postpone finishing my college education, and was planning a wedding years before she would have thought prudent. In the years to come, I had baby after baby and never did finish that degree. Those decisions will never make sense to her. How could the girl she had placed so carefully on a certain path have ended up wandering in the opposite direction?

With no memory of the events of many of the major events of my life, she is mystified by how we got to the place I’m at today. She loves the grandchildren, and rejoices to meet every one, but wonders why there are so many. How did the girl she knew become the woman she knows?

Her daughter is missing.

It’s not about genetics, because clearly I’m still here. She’s missing the girl she knew. What happened to the child who dreamed of politics and had plans laid out for her life before she even left elementary school? That girl was still charging ahead until that fateful day at age 14, when my mom died and I had to learn to live without her.

It was while living without her that I discovered boys and learned about heart-break. I went out into the world searching for love and intimacy without a guide to help me understand what that looked like. I made horrible choices and met awful people who wrote themselves on the history of my life. Eventually I met the other kind…the good and honest ones. I had learned to recognize their value, so I held on tight.

I left the Church, and that decision was met with disinterest by those around me. With nothing to call me back, I drifted lost for many years. It wasn’t until my baby lay dying in the NICU that I hit my knees and rediscovered my faith. I studied and learned, prayed and listened. I became a woman of strong and quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) faith. It became my rock and my support.

I struggled with the after-effects of contraceptive choices on my body, and learned to love the babies from my unplanned pregnancies. I had become a Catholic woman a 12-hour drive away from my still-healing mother, and nearly 20 years beyond the girl she remembered. Eventually, I found my voice and began to write. I poured out my heart on a blank computer screen, and began to learn to know and love the woman I had become. That’s a lot of life to have lived, and her memory is missing almost all of it.

I sat on the couch with her this past December, listening to a tape of the mother I had lost. After a few minutes, we heard the bright chirp of my own girlishness and she sighed. We listened to the voices of the people we miss most and cried together – for my mother who is gone, and for her daughter who is missing.

The daughter she lost

About Rebecca Frech

Rebecca Frech is a Catholic author, speaker, CrossFit coach, and the Managing Editor of The Catholic Conspiracy website. She is the author of the best-selling books Teaching in Your Tiara: A Homeschooling Book for the Rest of Us and Can We Be Friends? She is a co-host of the popular podcast The Visitation Project, and is a columnist for The National Catholic Register. She and her husband live just outside Dallas with their eight children, a German Shepherd named Dave, and an ever-multiplying family of dust-bunnies.
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