What I Want You to Know About Mother’s Day

The first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day after a parent has died signals a change of remembering. No longer is it about remembering to put cards in the mail, to order flowers to be delivered, to wake up early and make the parent breakfast in bed, or to create sweet posts on social media. Instead, the remembering is of a bittersweet kind: eating a favorite meal in the person’s memory, talking about the good times you shared with that person, connecting with other loved ones sharing in the loss. 

The advantage you have of being so young when your mom died is a built in resilience that we seem to lose as we grow older. You are adaptable in a way I am not. You are not upset, for instance, to be spending Mother’s Day with just me, looking out for Lamborghinis from our patio table at a Sausalito cafe. You do not seem to notice all the moms of varying ages enjoying a Sunday afternoon in this beautiful touristy town, walking along the water with their families. It does not shake you as it shakes me to see the young mom at the table next to us take her son who is about your age into her lap while they wait for the food to arrive. Which is not at all to say that you do not miss your mom and do not feel the pains of her absence, but only that your mind has adjusted to the new normal quicker than mine has.

On the other hand, one of the many disadvantages of having your mom die at such an early age is how hard it will be for you to retain memories of her as you grow older. Maybe you will hold onto more than most kids your age would – your recall of people and events from years prior has long amazed me. But still. As the percentage of your life spent without your mom continues to grow, it’s only natural that your memories of her will dim and blur. Remembering your mom each Mother’s Day – the bittersweet kind of remembering – will likely become more difficult with each passing year. And that fact will bring its own kind of pain to the day.

As I remember your mom today and feel the pain of her absence so keenly, I have been looking at pictures of the six Mother’s Days that she was able to celebrate with you. I thought I’d tell you a few things that stand out to me about her as I look backward, things I want you to remember about her as more time marches on. My hope is that if you are reading this years from now and the memory of your mom feels far away, you might be reminded of the nearness of her love.

Mother’s Day 2015

What I want you to remember about your mom, first and foremost, are her loving arms around you. Any chance she got, she was holding onto you. It was never enough. In your wildness and need to explore, you were always wriggling out and venturing away. But when you would tire or fall or just need some attention, she was there to scoop you up and hold you tight. “My Nander,” she would say, before showering you with her kisses. I hope that as you read this, you can take a moment to close your eyes and feel those arms. They have never stopped holding you. They never will.

Mother’s Day 2016

What I want you to remember about your mom is her playfulness. She loved to get down to your level, to sit with you and carry on conversations about whatever was on your mind: Legos, Little Einsteins, superheroes, you name it. She was not afraid or embarrassed to get on the playground equipment with you at the park, which was a good thing, since I was always a little nervous I would break the equipment if I joined you. She would play video games with you, do Snapchats with funny filters so you barfed rainbows or sounded like a chipmunk, or have BTS dance parties with you in our basement. She liked to find ways to pester me, and encouraged you whenever you found a new way to annoy me, like when you started poking my nipples. As I tried to shield myself from your attacks, the two of you would laugh and laugh, until I broke and started laughing too. Her playfulness was infectious.

Mother’s Day 2017

What I want you to remember about your mom is her strength. When she first battled breast cancer she spent five days unexpectedly in the hospital after the surgeon nicked her lung during the port placement. Upon discharge, she went from the recovery room directly to the oncology department to receive her first round of chemo. That was one of the worst days of her life. But somehow she pulled through. And the very next day, she went back at work, finding comfort in the routine of it. By Mother’s Day the following weekend, she was back to her old, graceful self. You wouldn’t have known that her short haircut was one she got to ease into her imminent baldness; it just seemed like something new she was trying out. With a lot of uncertainty and scary times ahead of her, she was doing what she loved and doing it with the same big smile. This was her unique brand of strength: not a facade of invincibility, but a determination to be courageous and kind even when she felt anxious and afraid.

Mother’s Day 2018

What I want you to remember about your mom is her intelligence. Like her strength, it wasn’t anything she showcased to impress. Rather, like many introverts, she struggled to express herself in group settings. When she did, she often felt that, because she was a woman and a person of color, her input was undervalued. So she looked for other ways to grow her knowledge and her skillset: attending seminars and trainings, volunteering with her undergraduate university’s admissions process, sitting on a board for a non-profit she helped found. Introvert or not, at home, she was never afraid to tell me what she really thought about my ideas. She also took special delight in how smart you are, encouraging you to explore the world close by while also buying you children’s books from authors representing many different backgrounds so that you would see a world beyond your own experience of it.

Mother’s Day weekend 2019

What I want you to remember about your mom is her laugh. It was the best sound in the world. She had a loud, rolling laugh when she thought something was funny, and a quieter snicker when she thought something was really funny but also a little embarrassing or inappropriate. As smart and sophisticated and proper as she was, she thought potty humor was hilarious. She laughed whenever one of us farted. She would tell me the same joke or sing the same annoying song until I cracked, and then she’d laugh a hearty and triumphant laugh. But her best laughs, the ones that always felt the most genuine and full of joy, were the ones she shared with you.

Mother’s Day 2020

What I want you to remember about your mom is how selfless she was. Last year, hours after we got the news about your mom’s cancer returning, she sat down at the desk in our guest room and wrote Mother’s Day cards to your grandmothers and great-grandmother. She had just been given the worst news, the significance of which we were both only beginning to process, and what did she do? She wrote cards to other people to make sure they felt remembered on their special days. And she probably felt bad that the cards would not arrive by the holiday. A few days later, you gave her rocks for Mother’s Day. They were ones you picked out the day before from our backyard. You chose them because you thought they looked beautiful, and so they reminded you of her. Through her aches and pains, through her sorrow and her fear, she examined each pebble carefully. She told you that that bag full of stones was the best gift she had ever received, and she told you how lucky she was to be your mom.

If you can’t remember any of that in the years ahead – if it becomes hard for you to suss out which memories are real and which ones you have formed from all the stories that you have heard about her secondhand – what I most want you to remember about your mom on Mother’s Day is this: That being your mom was the thing she was most proud of in her short life. Because when you made her a mom, you made her complete.

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