I don't remember the last Mother's Day I shared with my mother. I was a senior at Boston College. I'm sure my family did something together, maybe a brunch or a dinner. I'm sure I called her. But I just don't recall the details.
One month later, I was anxiously waiting in a hospital room. And I heard the word no one wants to hear: cancer. My family knew her fate from the moment the diagnosis was uttered. We kept our relentless hope because she did, but my mom would succumb to the disease before seeing another Mother's Day. In nine months, stomach cancer took her life.
For those of us who are without mom on Mother's Day, it can be one of the most difficult days of the year. It's like being single on Valentine's Day: there are sad reminders everywhere.
I found myself trying to return to normalcy about two months after my mom died. My friend's birthday was around the corner, and I ventured into the Hallmark store to buy him a birthday card. As soon as I walked in, I realized my error. The pink and the purple. The "tell mom how much you love her." The "World's Best Mom" coffee mugs perfectly aligned on a table in front of me. My heart started racing, and I ran out of the store, and back into my car. For the next 10 minutes, I sat in the Raynham Market Basket parking lot sobbing uncontrollably. My friend received only a Facebook wall post that year.
Five years later, I still feel palpable guilt about how I treated my mom. Of her three daughters, I had the most trying relationship with her. We didn't always see eye-to-eye. It still stings when I hear folks say that after college, their relationship with their mothers blossomed. I feel cheated out of that experience.
Every day, I wonder if I'm making her proud. I wonder if she sees my mistakes, joys, sorrows, and laughter. My mother was fortunate enough to meet the men my sisters ended up marrying. Nothing hurts more than knowing the man I marry won't know my mother or have my mother's approval.
My friends have been sensational. They let me cry, knowing that some days I'll have a "missing Mommy moment" and need to let my emotions out. They realize that a night in might be what I need rather than a night on the town. And they check in. I have friends and adopted mothers who called me and text me on Mother's Day. The simple phrase "thinking of you" is powerful.
I don't avoid Mother’s Day now; instead, I embrace it because I still have other women to celebrate. My grandmother, who has seen tragedy that no parent should ever see; she's buried two children. My Aunt Connie, who always--and still very much is--a second mother to me, has become one even more now. And, of course, my sister Andrea, who is now a mother herself to a rambunctious two-year-old. I cannot describe the excitement I felt last year to buy Andrea her first Mother's Day card. Like our own mother, she truly is an amazing parent.
Over the course of nine months, I got to say good-bye to my mother. Our conversations went from talking together, to me talking and her smiling back at me, to just me talking as she silently laid there, to now talking at her no matter where I am. That powerful transition is something I know many people don't get to experience. Three days before she died I got to say good-bye. I heard her say I love you. She made me promise that I'd finish my masters. (I did.) We have old family videos where I can hear her laughter, her Bahston accent, her saying my name - and that's the thing I treasure the most. On Mother's Day, I hold onto the memory of her. I treasure it. Because that's what Mother's Day is all about.
On a small note, Meredith Goldstein, the Globe's Love Letter columnist, just lost her mother a few days ago. Meredith - we're all thinking of you and keeping you and your family in our hearts.
To my readers - I promise I will return to writing about pets next week.