Motherhood without a mom: Women feel loss of guidance from their mothersMOORHEAD - On the morning of her mother’s funeral, Marie Beckerleg was sitting in a rocking chair, her hands resting on her belly swollen with new life. How would she ever face motherhood without her own mom to guide her, she wondered?
MOORHEAD - On the morning of her mother’s funeral, Marie Beckerleg was sitting in a rocking chair, her hands resting on her belly swollen with new life.
How would she ever face motherhood without her own mom to guide her, she wondered?
Beckerleg grabbed a legal pad and pen and began writing down her raw feelings – a cathartic practice that had never failed her before. As she wrote, she could feel her mother nearby. “It was like a physical presence somewhere deep inside me. She was there. I’ll never forget that moment.”
But the question returned during labor not long afterward. “I looked at my Grandma Kate, her mom, and I just said, ‘I don’t know how I can be a mom without her showing me how.’ And she said the coolest thing: ‘She already did show you because she raised you.’ ”
It was exactly what Beckerleg needed to hear to push forward.
Last month, Beckerleg helped welcome her sister Maggie Burlingame’s first child, daughter Brooklyn, into the world. Brooklyn’s arrival has provided another opportunity for the sisters to bond in their mother’s absence – an unexpected blessing in the wake of her death, they say.
“We’ve gotten so much closer since Mom got sick,” Beckerleg says. “I remember Mom saying, when she was sick, ‘You and Maggie would be such great friends if you could just see (the good things) about each other.’ And she was right.”
Kathleen Murray’s death from cancer at age 50 in November 2007 was mourned by more than 300 community members, including regional law enforcement officers she’d met through her job as special agent for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“She was very good at what she did,” Beckerleg says. “She won many awards but was very humble about it. She investigated all kind of things – drug cases, criminal cases, you name it.”
Specifics of Murray’s work stayed largely confidential, even to her family. Her daughters are still piecing together the dangerous nature of their mom’s undercover life.
“I was reading something the other day that she once posed as a killer for hire,” Burlingame says.
But to her daughters, she was just Mom, a divorced, single woman. Despite her profession of choice, she was very feminine, wearing her dark hair long and always applying fresh lipstick.
“She’d also brush her hair before she got out of the car,” Beckerleg says. “It didn’t matter if she was just going to get gas and it was windy and blizzarding.”
“She was very quietly intimidating, but you’d never know that about her if you were just having coffee with her,” Beckleg notes.
Her daughters knew her well, however, and she, them. If Murray noticed one of them going down the wrong path, she’d quickly turn them around.
One time, when Beckerleg was a homesick college student, she visited her mom on break and didn’t want to go back. When she tried to re-enter the house, her mother was on the other side of the door, keeping it tightly locked. “I was out there sobbing, but she just knew it was best that I drive back to Concordia.”
And yet, Murray had a mother’s heart and followed up with a phone call the minute she sensed Beckerleg had landed back on campus.
It was Beckerleg’s husband, Craig, who suggested they name their son Murray. Though born just after his grandmother’s death, Murray has gotten to know her through the stories Beckerleg has shared, and, in a simpler way, through her love for him.
Little Murray, now 4, recently announced after a deep sleep that Grandma Kathy had been tickling his toes in the middle of the night. Beckerleg says she’s open to the possibility that her mother might have paid him a visit or two.
CIRCLE OF LIFE
Like Beckerleg, Martha Burns, Fargo, used her mother’s name, Dorothy, as a namesake for the child she bore after her mom’s death.
“Since she was the first grandchild to be born after Mom died, it was a no-brainer,” Burns says.
Burns grew up in Wolf Point, Mont., hometown of her father, Leo Cody, a milkman who eventually became county sheriff. Her mother, an Illinois native, had met him in California while he was in the military.
Her father, a man who “smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish,” according to Burns, died of a massive heart attack when his wife was 40, leaving her to raise seven of their 11 children still at home.
Burns, only 9 at the time, watched her mother deal with the loss. After nearly suffering a nervous breakdown, she moved past the initial shock and grief, regained her balance and set about transforming herself.
A high school graduate, Cody went back to school and became a real estate agent and broker, setting up a successful business in town.
“That was a big accomplishment for her, and it was back when real estate was booming. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that,” Burns says.
Then Cody was approached by the local Democratic Party about running for the state Legislature. Competing against a longtime incumbent who was well-respected, she shocked many, including herself, by winning.
What impresses Burns most about her mother is how, despite the many detours she encountered, she never found a roadblock. “It was always just a detour for the next best thing in her life.”
Burns seems to have inherited that strong determination and self-reliance. Graduating from nursing school eight years ago, she and her fellow graduates bestowed makeshift awards on one another, and she received a clipboard attached with duct tape to a dryer vent with a sign on it: “Work with what you’ve got.”
“That’s a true testament of my mother and me. She could make anything out of nothing, and she had to do that raising seven kids on her own,” Burns says. “She was a city girl going to this Podunk country, but she was always so adventurous.”
But she was the practical type, too, a trait that stayed with her to the very end.
Like Murray, Cody died of lung cancer just months after the diagnosis. Though contrary to Murray, who was miffed at having to leave her family, Cody received and shared the news very nonchalantly.
Burns explains that her mother, a heavy smoker, quit many times but always knew she’d die of cancer. Following the diagnosis, she called Burns and her husband, Jim. “She just said, ‘Well it’s here.’ Like her old friend that had come to visit her, it was finally here,” Burns says, shaking her head at the recollection.
“She died as well as she lived,” she adds. “It was the next journey, the next adventure, this whole dying thing.”
Burns’ mother wrote her large brood a letter before her death. “She said, ‘I don’t want you guys living in each other’s back pockets, but I do want you to stay connected.’ So every other year we have a family reunion, rotating where we go, spreading it out all over the country,” Burns says.
Now, as a palliative care nurse, Burns has discovered a final gift from her mother.
“I think because of the way she embraced loss, because of my dad dying so young, we’ve never been afraid of death and dying,” she says, adding that she now tries to gently impart that to her patients and their families. “The circle of death and life, it’s really all part of the same circle.”