"What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."
- Helen Keller
I’m walking in circles inside Walgreens. I came in because I wanted to buy a couple of sympathy cards for friends, but now I’m avoiding the card aisles altogether because of the Mother’s Day cards. I’m caught off guard, sobs welling up from my broken heart as I stand in the middle of the shampoo aisle trying to regain my composure.
This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom. People say that when you lose someone you love, the firsts are the hardest—the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first Mother’s Day. Last year at this time I was terrified that my mom would not survive her recently diagnosed cancer, and this year that fear is my reality.
Most people who have lost a loved one have a story about falling apart at the grocery store. The details vary, and the trigger can be any- thing from a bag of potato chips to a beach hat, but the experiences are similar: you stop at the store to pick something up, you see something that reminds you of your loved one, and you are ambushed by feelings of deep grief and loss.
After finding a couple of blank cards near an end cap, I wander over to the Easter candy aisle thinking that some chocolate might make me feel better. That’s when I see the marshmallow peeps. Those were Mom’s favorite, and I always bought them for her at Easter. Now they have hollow milk chocolate eggs with a marshmallow peep inside; she would have loved that.
Before Mom died, she said things like, “I will always be a part of you” and “You’ll always have me in your heart.” As her daughter, I couldn’t imagine then what it would be like to not have her here anymore. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. But I am also a mom, and my relationships with my daughters help me understand what she meant when she said those things.
When our youngest daughter, Brenna, was in kindergarten, she went through a phase where she felt disproportionately guilty after she had done something wrong. Her dad and I were over it, her sisters were over it, but she couldn’t get past her guilt—she couldn’t move on. She would say, “There is just this voice in my head telling me I’m bad, that I never do anything right, that I’m not good.” Finally, I thought to ask her whose voice it was in her head telling her those things. She looked at me like the answer was obvious. “You!” she said. I laughed and cringed at the same time. I had never said those things to her, but she had picked up on my frustrations and disappointments, and that translated into negative self-talk spoken in my voice. It was a good reminder that as a mom, my voice is powerful.
We joke about hearing our mothers’ voices in our heads, and when we are younger that may feel more like a curse than a blessing. But we are lucky if over time that curse turns into a blessing as her voice becomes a part of us.
In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself, I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can still hear her voice and feel her love. Now I know what she was trying to tell me. Her love has become internalized inside my heart, and in a way that means she lives on in my thoughts. It means that she is always with me, in my heart.
Our eldest is now driving, and soon she will be leaving for college. Sometimes I look at her and can’t believe she is already a young woman. In some ways she is like me, and in other ways she is so different—and I know what’s happening. In the day-to-day mothering, I am becoming a part of her and she—well, she has always been a part of me. That is what it means to be a mother.
A few days later, after my emotional trip to the drugstore, I drive back to that same store and walk directly to the Mother’s Day card aisle. It is hard, but today I feel a little bit stronger. I stand silently, reading card after card, patiently searching until I find the one that best articulates what my mom means to me. Then I make my way to the check- out, passing through the candy aisle to pick up a package of peeps, even though I don’t care for them. And in my heart I hear my mom’s laugh.
Reprinted with permission from Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy by Becky Baudouin, Kregel Publications, 2017.
Categories Mothers, Mother's Day, daughters, family, loss, grief, hope, love