Every day after school, on the way home from the bus stop, I would stop at this bushy little area at the end of our road and pick a couple wildflowers for my mom (Not in winter, I suppose, but perhaps I picked twigs.). I’d walk in the door and my mom would be waiting at the top of the stairs and she’d smile and give me a hug, put the flowers in a bud vase on the kitchen table and make me a snack. No one else in my life has ever smiled like–just the biggest, most welcoming smile– every time I’d enter a room. And when I’d leave, she’d wave, and keep on waving until we lost sight of each other, always, as if she couldn’t stand the thought of waving for one second less. I know it was often inconvenient for her. She’d interrupt phone calls and chores to do it. And it wasn’t always easy to return the wave. There have been a few close calls with other cars and children on bikes with me being so focused on making sure I kept waving. But it’s what we did.
My mom was the most elegant woman in any room. If you put her in a stadium full of people and asked which one had cancer, you wouldn’t guess her. Even just a few hours after her surgery, she looked better than me. I was okay with that. As with her Scrabble playing, there was no point in trying to best her. I didn’t mind being less lovely, less gracious, less organized, less happy than she was. It was enough just to be around her and soak it in. We were different in so many ways, alike in just a few, but she didn’t mind that. She didn’t want me to be her. She wanted me to be the most successful version of myself.
Even faced with cancer, she didn’t fade away. She fought hard, stayed sharp, stayed beautiful, was just as vital and caring and brilliant as ever. She kept making plans. She thought she could beat it, and she made me believe it, too. If there was going to be an exception, she was going to be it. We never got to the goodbye part. Maybe if things got serious at some point, we’d say, then maybe. For her sake, I’m glad we never did get to that point. Better to go out with plans than after you’ve given up on making them. For her sake. For my sake, I wish we’d had some more warning. So many things left to do. I was going to write her a eulogy and read it to her. And this thing isn’t it, because I’m not reading it to her, so it doesn’t have to be as good. Maybe we’d go urn shopping together, I said. We’d do this and that. IF things started to go south. IF the chemo stopped working.
I don’t know what happened in the end. I emailed her at 8:30 to ask if we could get together because I was missing her and by noon she was gone. In the minutes between two phone calls to the house, something just went wrong, or rather more wrong. I was scrubbing the sink.
As for her passing, she told me months before to go ahead and feel really shitty about it, that she would be pissed if I didn’t let it ruin my day. I told her it would ruin my week, my month, my decade or more. That I would keep talking to her anyway, if that was okay. That I would miss her every day of my life. She said it was fine to feel sad, like really sad, she said, but to keep living and enjoying my children and hugging my husband and having fun and going for drives on crisp fall days with the top down…. “But I don’t have a convertible,” I said, “And I’m not even having fun now.” She told me to work on that. Like I said, we were very different people. She always said she had the happy gene, and me, well, I was born on a Wednesday. Full of woe.
I miss my best friend. The only person who always knew just what to say to make me feel better, even when she should have been on the receiving end of a pep talk. I know if I have just 1% of her determination and dignity and intelligence and generosity, I’ll be okay. She thought I had more than that, and I will not disrespect her memory by arguing. She knew I’d be okay. She told me that time and time again, and I told her I knew it, too, but it was going to be hard. And it is so goddamn hard.
A great mother loves and nurtures, guides and disciplines, and essentially teaches her children how to someday live without her. And she was the greatest mom. So I’ll take everything she gave me and put it to use.
I love you, Mom. Thank you.