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Happy Mother's Day? Facing Mother's Day Without A Mother

"My mother never baked cookies or slaved over a stove for homemade treats. What she did do was always remind me when it was time to go on a diet. She never sat down with me to do homework. But she would always show up to parent-teacher conferences or school programs, glamorous and impeccable, impressing both my classmates and teachers with her striking, unforgettable beauty. She never pressured me to get high grades or later on, to settle down and marry. She would always say that her mother would tell her: "Mas vale solo que mal acompañado" (Better to be alone than with a bad partner) She never really sat down and gave me advice. What she did was just live her life, always and irrevocably, just being completely and deeply herself. It was always a challenge to find her a Mother’s Day card because most of them were so sickeningly sweet and sentimental and those just didn't suit her.

On February 6 of this year, my mom’s heart just stopped after a month-long battle with a particularly virulent strain of pneumonia that then degenerated into kidney failure and sepsis. This will be my first Mother’s Day without her. And I’m dreading it. My mom LOVED Mother’s Day. As early as mid-April, she would already be announcing, “Reminder, reminder, Mother’s Day is coming soon.” And when I would remind her that it wasn't even May yet, she would just  quip back: “Well, then you have lots of time to find me a nice gift.” My mom could always be counted on for a quick quip. Even when she was hooked up to breathing machines and with a tube down her throat, she would find a way to break the tension with some juicy gossipy insights. As I sat down to write this piece, I began to think that it was a mistake. Maybe it was too early. Maybe I had nothing to say.

 

With my mom on my 40th birthday

 

But I’ve always, always believed that pain has a higher purpose. Maybe it was growing up on The Oprah Show.  Or just that a few days ago, a friend who suddenly lost her father told me, “Now I know how you feel.” And as she asked me questions of what grief was like, and as I answered as brutally and lovingly as I could, she shared that she now dreaded the day her mom would die, too. In those little moments, I could feel a veil lift from her. She was, of course, still devastated by grief, but she also had a little more clarity, maybe a little more solace.

Looking back on those days in the hospital and the wake and the funeral, since memories overwhelmed me when I had to write this story, I realize now that “other mothers” had come to surround me. Friends and family who wouldn't leave my side; who treated me out to burgers and pickle fries when I craved for them; who made me laugh with crazy stories of desperate social climbers.

 

Retro Christmas photo with my mom and sisters

 

And I did almost not write this story. It’s been a few weeks since I had a good cry over my mom, but having to organize my thoughts for this piece brought on a crazy crying jag. But if only one reader just feels less alone, less overwhelmed by sadness, less lost, then the tears and the return of my lovely memories are not for naught. Years and years ago, my dad told me that losing his mom was the most difficult  grief he had to bear. But difficult doesn't mean unbearable. The other day, a line from the gospel stuck me. Jesus had told his disciples: “Your grief will turn to joy.” Every loss makes a new scar on your heart; but with time and reflection and grace, that scar becomes a source of strength.

I know that my mom lives on in my memories, and though she wasn't the “advice-giving” type of mom, her inner strength and limitless giving and her love of prayer are now my maps for the future. Maybe it won’t quite be a purely happy Mother’s Day this year; but it will be meaningful, it will be memorable and it will be spent honoring and remembering my mom. She deserves that.

 

My mom and her youngest granddaughter, Audriana