There’s a silver lining to staying home and safe these days. It may seem trivial, but not for me. It’s the saving grace of not having to pass racks of Mother’s Day cards or the stores that invite me in to purchase that perfect gift. Those things, among others, still trigger my grief.
I can’t escape from electronic mail. For weeks, I’ve been reminded of Mother’s Day. I want to tell those companies that you are gone. But I know they mean well for those who are lucky enough to still have their Mom’s. It still hurts, though. A lot.
The reality sinks in yet again, that I’ll never write another Mother’s day card for you, or bring you flowers or something that you saw when we shopped together.
Accepting that life will never be the same was a new normal for me. And there are battle wounds to show.
I hid my grief from Dad, who needed more consoling than I could possibly give. I stowed your purse away because every time I tried to sort through it, I was unable to. I stopped playing the CD you recorded because hearing you sing wasn’t really comforting, but painful.
Now, I no longer have to hide my grief from Dad. He’s gone too, and I miss him just as much. Your purse is sorted, and I treasure the pictures of us you took everywhere. And even if I get choked up, I feel lucky I can still hear your beautiful voice.
Nana used to tell me I won’t grasp how much you loved me until I was a mother. She wasn’t wrong. When I saw my daughter for the first time, I was speechless. Overcome with joy, I held her and thanked God.
How did you feel? You never told me, but then I didn’t ask. I had my answer, though, as I poured over my baby pictures in that fancy lacquered album, each image mounted on photo corners and the pages protected by tissue. Who took the pictures? I never asked this either, but they knew what to shoot, or did they?
They say that a person’s life can be read through black and white photos. I looked at how you held me, how you smiled at me, and how I rested so comfortably in your arms. You didn’t need to tell me anything. I just knew because I have those same pictures of Carolyn and me. It turns out it wasn’t the black and white photos and how they paled in comparison to the colour ones. Those pictures had captured a mother’s love.
Because you were a young mom, we were only twenty years apart. Maybe it was partly your youth that had you encourage a sense of independence and empathy in me early on, but those lessons weren’t wasted on me. Somehow you knew I needed that. Remember the day in first grade when you handed me my lunch and then insisted I walk to school alone? You even agreed, with my prodding, to bring me to a child’s wake? I’m not sure I was ready to handle either of those things, but you were.
Over the years, the rocky times we shared got lost in the more extraordinary moments. And there were many of them. But what I still treasure most are the times we just sat over a cup of tea and chatted. That was a ritual we had, which I could always count on and which you enjoyed. Our roles changed over those years with me taking care of you, but the love you had for me didn’t.
Those last months, especially, I left with a lump in my throat when I visited. I used to glance back down the hallway as I made my way to the elevator. You’d lean outside the threshold waving to me, and I wished we had more time. That ache I felt leaving you, it’s still there, but that’s another battle wound I’ve gotten used to. It’s a gift, though, because it reminds me that I still cherish you.
And those heart wrenching “firsts,” they’re not just for the first year.
It took me a while to figure that out. And then I remember how Nana used to tear up when she talked about her Mom. And then you did the same when Nana died. They say you have to walk in someone else’s shoes to really know them. And when I lost you, I finally understood.
I still take that baby album out and trace my hands over your face in those pictures. How strange that touching an image can stir up a heart. But it does. The built-in music box plays for a few seconds and then stops. I know that tune in my sleep, though, just like I’ve stored your joy in all those pictures.
When I see a carnation, I can’t forget how we made those flowers out of Kleenex tissues and a Bobbie pin to fan out the petals. We’d hand them to you, and you’d thank us, fully aware that we’d used up a perfectly good bunch of tissues.
So what does it mean to celebrate the 6th Mother’s day without you? It’s still bittersweet, but I have survived and have carried on, just like you did. But grief runs deep and love even deeper.
I honour you today, Mom, on this special day.
To all of you who have lost a Mom and still miss her and
To all of you who still have your Mom with you
I’m thinking of you all today as you remember and cherish them.
God Bless all of our mothers.
Jackie Kierulf is a retired health policy analyst who has always loved to write. After being a caregiver and journeying with both of her parents in their last days, she launched a blog to share some of her personal reflections on grief and loss. Jackie has also contributed to the Canadian Grief Resource Network grief stories. In addition, she has been published in a short story anthology as well as in local newspapers. When Jackie is not writing, she is reading, enjoying the outdoors or traveling. Please follow Jackie’s blog at Cherishing the Death Process.
Her Grief Dialogues blog post titled The Look of Death was a Gift was published on March 13, 2020.