I love to be honored on Mother’s Day by my husband, sons and grandkids, but it is a bittersweet holiday now that my mom is no longer alive. I miss her. I was blessed with a great mother who guided me by example. She was strong, capable, loving. The best compliment I receive is when someone says, “You are just like your mom.”
My mom passed away in 2003 at age 77. What I’ve discovered since her death is that a strong mother-daughter relationship doesn’t disappear when your mother dies. It just changes. Gone are the evenings when we laughed together with a glass of wine, the days when we cooked side by side, or the mornings when her voice on the phone was the first one I heard wishing me a good morning.
I miss those times, but I still talk with my mother frequently. I don’t actually hear her voice, but I know it’s her when a sentence pops into my head before my mind can actually form the words. That, and the fact that the tone is always a little salty! She pulls me up short, like she did in life, to remind me to be grateful, to not worry so much, to enjoy life like she did.
My mom had her share of sorrow and challenges. She grew up in the Great Depression where she lived in a house without indoor plumbing, owned two dresses, had to “borrow” a winter coat from her older sister on occasion. She was the middle child. Her older sister had serious health and developmental problems. Her younger brother was often mom’s charge and the apple of his mother’s eye. She lost her dad to cancer when he was only 54. She had a distant, and sometimes conflicted, relationship with her mother. Her husband was moody and prone to rage. She buried her daughter, aged 32, and her husband, aged 64, in the summer of 1988, just eleven days apart.
Her attitude, like many women in her generation from our small town, was to accept what life gives you and just go on. She was different, though, from other mothers I observed. She wasn’t bitter or resigned or negative in any way. She was quick to laugh, even at herself, and always ready for a good time.
She expected the same mindset from me and never indulged my moods. God forbid, I should say that I was bored. Boredom was countered with a list of chores that needed doing. When I had my first heartbreak over a boy at age 13, her reaction was “big deal.” It sounds cold, but it was her way of saying that there would be others and that I would survive. There were and I did. When I was in my late 30s, I was whining to her about my marriage. Her response? “You’re in the prime of your life, shit head.” Point taken.
My mom was my biggest fan, fiercely loyal and my best friend. I loved spending time with her. We often called each other at exactly the same time, resulting in failed calls. I could tell her anything, and often did, without being judged. So it’s not surprising to me that I still hear from her, especially when I’m down or confused. My spouse, friends and other family members provide support, but there are times in life when only a mother will do.
They say that when you see a cardinal, it means that someone from heaven is near. I was missing my mom this morning and looked out my back window. There was a beautiful cardinal perched on a bare birch branch with its head cocked as though it was looking straight at me. I lifted my coffee mug in greeting. Happy Mother’s Day, mom