Sometimes the triggers are subtle: a smell, a song, a sound. I will be sitting there and think of my mom and want to share that moment with her, then realize that the only way to do that now is through prayer. But there are days, moments, that hit like a sledgehammer. Mother’s Day this year snuck up on me as I focused on the joy of my wife, mother of our children, and on our eldest daughter, mother of our incredible grandson. Probably I had subconsciously pushed the sadness to the side, to save for later, to feel in a private moment. Two days ago, as Jean-Marie and I flew back from a conference that I attended, I realized it was Friday May 6th and Mother’s Day was only two days off – which would make it May 8th this year. That was when the sledgehammer fell and I fought off tears, May 8th Mom would have been 82.
I have never been a good enough son to remember Mom’s birthday with any reliable accuracy for much of my life (my wife Jean-Marie improved my memory in that regard substantially!). I am truly terrible with dates in general. I have trouble remembering my sister Laura’s birth date, and that of my little brother Greg. Ginny’s birthday is hard to forget since it is on Independence Day, and my older brother Chris only takes me a little math to work out (he is one year, one month, and one week my elder). Mom’s birthday I always linked with Mother’s Day. When Mother’s Day approached, I would buy a card and a gift and use them for both – I’d like to think that Mom admired the practicality of it, but that is only my guilt tossing a coin into the wishing well. This year I can give her no card, no gift. No two-for-one phone call. The only gift lying about is for me, the blessing of having her for 53 years, the gift of the memories that lie in her wake.
It is Sunday today, and I close my eyes and I can smell the cooking of breakfast. As a family, we fell into a ritual of watching Award Theater on TBS on Sunday mornings eating homemade Egg McMuffins. Mom made these using egg rings in her electric skillet for maximum authenticity. Dad of course dubbed these “Egg McMommies,” they were better than anything made by McDonalds. One Saturday night, I had been over at my best friend’s house hanging out and watching TV. It was getting late and I needed to get home, but Summer of ’42 came on and Ben and I had to watch (what teenage boy wouldn’t?!?). So I spent the night forgetting to call home. When I got up the next morning seeing it was almost 9, I hustled out the door and ran home (I was a runner then and ran everywhere, and Ben only lived a mile away). As I came in the door that particular Sunday while the family was amassed in the den in front of the TV, Mom said to me that my breakfast was almost ready. “Mom, I fell asleep last night at Ben’s. I’m just coming home.” I said this maybe hoping for punishment to ease my guilt at not having called. “Oh, I thought you were just out for a run.” She knew I was safe, and she trusted me.
I sit here and listen to the early silence of the house, and I can hear Mom laugh. Mom loved to laugh and she was good at it. I loved to make her laugh. She would get a silly smile on her face that I could see even over the phone, and if the moment were good, with eyes squinting she would double over just a bit. It was not a raucous laugh, but one submerged in her chest constrained a bit by politeness perhaps, but it was genuine and fun as all getout to watch. My brother Greg does a good imitation of her laugh, maybe I will call him today. Laughter is the best medicine, especially when dispensed by Mom.
I set my memories free to run through the grass of every sports field I had touched while growing up, and I cannot find a one where Mom was not in the bleachers cheering. Football from Pee Wee to Varsity, home or out-of-town games, I see her bundled against the weather and smiling. Basketball games in gymnasiums with the high pitched screams of teenagers echoing off concrete block walls, there was my mom sitting in the sheet metal stands. Every track meet, even the ones where the coaches had put away their stop watches in the gathering dusk before I finished the two mile race (during my slower days), Mom would be there encouraging me through my final laps on a cinder track.
Mom, I miss you, I love you. Today I can say through the tears as I write, “Happy birthday, and happy Mother’s Day,” not because there is any happiness in your absence, but because even in the sadness, I can see your smile and that makes me smile.