It has been almost fifteen years since I lost my beautiful, wonderful mom; my best friend and closest confidante. In some ways it seems like a long time ago. In many ways it seems like yesterday.
As a mom now myself, I have gained some perspective on the loss of my own mother. I know that she would want me to celebrate her life and not cry over her loss; to remember the many happy moments that we shared rather than grieve over the ones we were denied. So I do try to do that. But sometimes it is hard.
So much has happened in my life that I wish she had been here for. Mom never got to meet my husband or hold my two babies when they were born. She won’t be here for Annabelle’s pre-school graduation next week, or her or Zach’s graduation from college many years from now.
In a way, though, mom is still with me. I see her in my daughter in so many ways. Annabelle loves sticky bread and butter and tomatoes with sugar, just like her grandma did. She has that same wry sense of humor and the wonderful quality of being able to really laugh at herself. She has tenacity and drive, and never gives up.
My mom raised six kids with patience and humor, and held down a full-time job at same time. As I fall into bed exhausted each night after taking care of two little ones, my only job that of taking care of a happy household, I marvel at how she did it.
My early childhood could best be described as idyllic. We always had everything we needed and never lacked for much we wanted. We rode horses and swam in the canal, raced our bikes around the neighbor’s horseshoe-shaped driveway and flew our kites in the big pasture out behind the house.
My mom let us have every imaginable sort of animal. Over the years we had everything from horses and 4H steers to rabbits, chickens and pet rats on our little one acre plot of land. I was famous for bringing home “stray” dogs that would usually sport a mysterious loop of twine around their necks, and I never got in trouble for it. Every night my mom put a wholesome dinner on the table, and we all sat down together to eat.
When my parents divorced during my high school years, I know it put a terrible strain on my mom. She had three kids still at home and was working a full-time job that didn’t really pay enough to support us, yet she still managed to always make us feel that everything was OK.
Even though my dad left her in a horrible position, mom never said a bad word about him. My little brothers weren’t old enough to understand what had happened, and they missed my dad. Mom always told them that dad really did love them, and he had done the best he could. As an adult looking back on the situation I am in awe of the character my mom showed in making that statement, and the self restraint it must have taken for her to never let us kids know just how bad things were.
My mom worked so hard to take care of us during those years, but she never complained or let on that it was a burden. We didn’t have money to buy heating oil for the furnace under the house, so mom would get up early every morning and start a fire in the fireplace so that the house would be warm when us kids got up. We didn’t always have wood to burn, and sometimes the fire would be made out of newspapers or cardboard boxes. I would usually arise to find mom in the kitchen, a welcoming smile on her face, sipping coffee and warming herself in front of the open oven door.
As I got through high school and then college, my mom and I enjoyed a very close relationship. She was always there for me, and we talked often. Mom and I didn’t have the sort of troubled relationship that graced many mother/teenager households. She was my closest friend, and my biggest fan.
I moved to California to work after college and I talked to my mom almost every single day. She counseled me on job choices, boyfriend troubles, and just about everything else a young girl far away from home for the first time needed help with.
When I got a little older and more established I got my first cell phone. I would call my mom every night on my commute home, first from a handset attached by a curly cord to the bread-loaf sized base that sat next to me on the seat of my Bronco II, later from the hands free speaker phone wired into my shiny black BMW.
It didn’t matter when I called, mom always had time to talk to me. I don’t remember a time when she ever asked me to call back, or even cut our conversation short. She was my best friend, and to this day I still miss that connection terribly.
My mom was an elegant woman who looked dressed up even in jeans and a t-shirt. She always had her nails polished, tasteful makeup on, and an air about her that said she was a lady. In her last years of life, before she became sick, we had the opportunity to travel together. Mom was so proud the day that she got her passport in the mail, and her biggest dream was to be able to get that passport stamped on the European vacation that we always planned to take together.
Mom did get to use her passport a couple of times, on trips that we took to Mexico, but she was disappointed that she never got a stamp from a “real” foreign country on it.
In her later years, mom became pretty adventurous. Although she had never been taught to swim, she gamely learned to snorkel with me in Hawaii, and she delighted in seeing all the beautiful fish. I know on some primal level the water terrified her, but she was determined to join me on the adventures, and join me she did. She ate sushi and artichokes; rode in a helicopter and a speed boat, a convertible and a white water raft.
On one of our Mexico vacations she posed with an iguana that was being carried down the beach by a local resident. Mom hated reptiles of any type, but she smiled gamely for the camera, even though her toes literally curled with discomfort over the situation.
Mom loved to visit me in San Francisco, and she delighted in all of the differences between the city and the quiet country life she led at home. I lived in a studio apartment near the marina for many years, and I always took my clothes to a little laundry down the street owned by a sweet old Chinese man. When I picked the clothes up they would be perfectly folded and wrapped in blue paper, with my name written on the paper in neat black marker. In Chinese.
Once when I was home for a visit to Idaho, my mom did some of my laundry for me while I was out one day. When I returned that evening the laundry was sitting on the kitchen table, neatly folded and wrapped in a brown paper sack, my mom’s version of Chinese lettering adorning the front of the package. We laughed until we cried.
My mom was the most amazing person I will ever know.
As I celebrate Mother’s Day today with my own kids, I will cherish every moment I have with them.
And I will think of my mom and smile.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone.