This past Sunday was the first Mother’s Day that I actively celebrated since my Mother’s death. It feels weird to say ‘celebrated.’ I certainly didn’t feel like celebrating. But I also felt that it was important not to feel sorry for myself or wallow in my Mom’s absence, but rather to observe the day doing things she would have enjoyed, and to be as happy as possible and as grateful as I could be for all that I still have.
Last year I ignored Mother’s Day altogether – or at least, I tried. It was a pretty loaded and impossible day. Not only was it the first Mother’s Day since my Mom’s passing, it was a mere three months after losing my Dad to cancer, and just a few weeks after my maternal Grandmother succumbed to aggressive Alzheimer’s disease. From the fall of 2012 through the spring of 2013, the hits came hard and fast. So I threw myself into work and felt grateful that when Mother’s Day arrived, I was in the midst of the six week run of a play. We had a performance on Mother’s Day, and that, combined with producing duties, gave me plenty to focus on. I stayed busy, I stayed distracted, and I pretended the ‘holiday’ didn’t exist.
Feeling more proactive and better prepared this year, I made a Mother’s Day plan with Zoe, one of my best girlfriends who had lost her own Mom way too young. We went big. We reserved a table at the fancy pants Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica – the exact type of place my Mom would have loved. Covered in fragrant florals, it’s a large, bright, breezy space with windows overlooking Ocean Ave. and the Pacific. Everything is overpriced, and obsequious servers in pressed pink shirts and flowery ties abound. Oh so Mother’s Day. Oh so perfect.
Just two days earlier, Zoe had accompanied me to see a friend’s play that was unexpectedly, a sort of emotional primer for the upcoming holiday. The story revolved around a family’s attempts to cope when the matriarch is suddenly afflicted with a debilitating neurological disease. She goes from a vibrant, highly capable and driven career woman to someone rapidly losing control of her speech and body. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, the family’s oldest daughter – who is halfway across the world – places a desperate phone call home on Thanksgiving. She doesn’t want to speak to her grandmother, or father, or sister. Only her Mom. And the Mom, who can barely move or speak, doesn’t think she can do it. But with the grandmother holding the phone to her ear, she manages to stammer through the conversation, finding strength she didn’t know she had to shakily get out the exact words of comfort that her daughter needed to hear.
That scene killed me. And at the end of the play, when Zoe and I both emerged from the theater with red, puffy eyes, I knew it had affected her as much – if not more – than me. Because as much as the fictional circumstances of the play were different than the real events of our lives, there’s something so identifiable about being sick, or sad, or in trouble, and the only person you want to talk to – the first phone call – is to Mom, because you know that no matter what, she’ll be able to make it better. And there’s something so final, so devastating, about no longer being able to make that call.
I take comfort in the fact that even though she’s no longer physically here, my Mom is still with me. After all, our parents made us, so how could they not be part of us, inextricably linked? I believe there’s a love there that transcends our physical being, and that’s something that death can’t take away. But I’ll tell you what I miss. I miss the care packages on Valentine’s Day and Easter; care packages that were sent to me long after I was too old to receive them, filled with candy and stickers and silly things. I miss the phone calls on my birthday, when every year without fail, my Mom would sing me a slightly off-key version of Happy Birthday, always ending it by telling me that the day I was born was the happiest day of her life. I used to roll my eyes when she said it, thinking it was so cheesy. Now I’d give anything to hear her say it again. I’d even give anything to have her berate me for not getting enough sleep, or to dismiss a bad mood I’m in by telling me that I’m simply ‘not eating enough protein.’ Isn’t it ironic how all the stuff that used to drive you crazy about a person becomes the stuff you miss desperately once they’re gone?
All things considered, the first Mother’s Day I observed sans Mom was a pretty good one. I shared a lovely and indulgent brunch with one of my dearest friends. The weather could not have been more sunny, warm and Southern California perfect. In the afternoon, I struck the right balance between productivity and relaxation (I’ve always been a work hard, play hard, sort of girl). I was doing great, I really was. And then, leaving the Trader Joe’s parking garage, the friendlier than usual attendant wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and then– off my face – followed it up quickly with, ‘Are you OK?’ “Yes!” I replied, a little too enthusiastically. He smiled. “I like the flower in your hair,” he said. Ah, bless you, kind stranger, for providing me that small victory. I thanked him and drove off, trying not to cry.
Grief is so funny. It’s rarely what you think will get you – the big stuff – that does it. More often than not, it’s something silly, like the off-handed comment from a well-meaning stranger. Or the restaurant getting your lunch order wrong. Or receiving a piece of news that’s so exciting you can’t wait to pick up the phone and call Mom and then realizing . . . you can’t.
In a way, it’s sort of like every day is Mother’s Day to me since I lost my Mom. I’m never not thinking about her, I’m never not appreciating all the wonderful things she gave me, and I’m never not wishing that she was still here. If you’re lucky enough to still have your Mom, don’t wait for Mother’s Day to hug her, or to send her flowers, or to tell her you love her. Please. Do it for me. Because I really wish that I still could.
Until next time, friends.