Mother’s Day used to be one of my favorite days. My mother went into labor on that holiday, but she still took the time to wolf down a big meal and a rum baba (against doctor’s orders) at Grandma’s house before rushing off to the hospital. I was born in the wee hours, but Mom and I cheated a bit and said that I was a Mother’s Day baby.
Even though Mom had already experienced nearly nine months of me, Mother’s Day marked the first time that I was actually out there in the world with her. From then on, each time our holiday rolled around, it had that additional meaning. We never had big, lavish celebrations. We simply spent the day together. We enjoyed going shopping or to the beach when I was home in Florida. And when Mom visited us in Paris, macarons and champagne always seemed to be on the menu.
While I struggled for years as an unpublished author, Mom cheered me on. She wouldn’t hear of ever giving up, of ever considering failure.
Distance separated us physically, but never emotionally.
And then came the spring of 2009. My mother’s Paris adventure would end exactly where it had started a few years earlier: in one of the city’s most well-known tea salons. She suffered a seizure and what ensued was a three-week fight lost to a glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor. My husband and I accompanied her during that battle: daily visits to her at the hospital, long conversations, cheering her through rehabilitation that seemed promising in our delirious minds.
My mother convinced herself and us that she would recover. She never complained or lost faith.
Mom even said: “I’m happy that I’m here… with you.”
When things got unbearably difficult, not only was my mother strong, but she thought that I was too. She believed that, together, we could win this battle.
In spite of our strength and love, Mom slipped away.
The realization of my loss came a few days after this grueling fight reached its end. The place: a Florida supermarket. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and the cashier, as she handed me my receipt, innocently said: Have a Happy Mother’s Day!
It was as if right then, the pain finally broke through the numbness that had been occupying my brain. It was over. Mother’s Day is meant to be celebrated together. But I was alone. That other half was gone.
I missed Mom for all that she was as a person as well as all that she brought to my life. Mom stood up for what she believed in. A registered nurse, she struggled to bring union representation to the hospital where she worked. She showered kindness on those around her. Peeling fruit for elderly patients and rocking babies born to drug-abusing mothers were not in her job description. But those are some of the things that she did because of the natural empathy and compassion that ruled her heart.
Of the most touching memories I have of my mother, are the times when she saved baby birds fallen from the nest or helped an extra-slow turtle cross the road.
And I selfishly missed Mom for the attention that she offered me, her only child.
When Mother’s Day came around the next year, I felt like an outsider… and that loneliness continued even after the birth of my daughter. P. was too young to understand Mother’s Day, to somehow transform the sadness into happiness. And in any case, she wasn’t a replacement for my mother.
A few more Mother’s Days passed. And now the sixth one without Mom approaches. P. is almost four years old: just about ready to celebrate a Mother’s Day with me, to understand how special that mother-daughter bond can be.
But do I have the courage to look at this Mother’s Day differently? To remember the relationship that I had with my mother and keep it alive, and to celebrate the one I have with my daughter?
I remember a conversation I had with someone recently. I was lamenting about how much I missed discussing problems with my mom and asking her for advice. And this very insightful person told me: “The answers are already there, in your heart and mind. Your mother gave them to you slowly but surely as you were growing up. You know your mother. You know what she would say. You know what she would do. She will live on through you.”
I cried for a long while… And concluded that this person was right.
I think back to what I discovered about my mother and myself during those days at the hospital: our strength.
I realize that my mother hadn’t lost her battle. Through her courage, she had been victorious. Now, it would be my turn.
Even though I don’t feel very strong at this time of year, I think of the confidence my mother had in me as I sat at her bedside. I can’t disappoint her.
So this year, as Mother’s Day approaches, I try to remain calm. I will make the day a good one. I promise myself that this time, I will shake off those bad feelings. I know that is what my mother would want.
I'm sure Mom would tell me to celebrate this Mother’s Day by doing one of her favorite things: Enjoying an omelet and wine at a Paris café and watching the world go by. And finishing off the experience with a rum baba.