I came into work that day with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, my mother had forgotten my birthday. The only girl in a sea full of boys how hard could it have been to remember. The only one who shared her love of perfume and Bobbi Brown, yet no card, no call. I was standing in our lab talking to Dr. Quinn, when I heard that one of my brothers from California was on the phone for me. I was the only family member who lived outside of California. I heard my mother had collapsed that morning, 11 days post knee replacement surgery but an otherwise healthy woman.
Phone calls later, muffled conversations, time that stood still and surreal. I found myself staring out the window of an airplane that evening watching the Phoenix lights trying to come to grips that my mom had unexpectedly died. My birthday meant nothing now and for all the years that past remained non-celebratory. I also stopped celebrating Thanksgiving and of course Christmas. This year, last month, it's been 10 years.
I adored her as a child, this I remember. She was beautiful and strong. She was funny and resilient. She wasn't perfect and we didn't always have a perfect life but she loved me and I knew it. I am everything I am, everything that is good because my mother valued and validated my life. She was my best friend and she left me too soon. It's hard for me to think of all that she's missed these past 10 years.
Ten years later, I still cry.
I haven't always felt her presence and guidance in my life since her passing. I heard her speak, once. Right after she died, my grief became unbearable and I was on the verge of losing my job over it. I desperately searched for some proof of her. I couldn't feel her, I didn't sense her. As close as we had been in the living world, I couldn't believe that in her passing she took her spirit with her and left me. Every night I cried and every night I asked "Where are you?" But nothing.
My manager at work called me into her office and as sensitively as she could put it, suggested I leave work. Take two weeks off, maybe some grief counseling and time alone to collect myself. So I did. I was driving one morning down a back road as the seasonal leaves were falling. I had a convertible and the leaves started to fall as I was driving under them so I stopped. The wind picked up and they danced and swirled around the car. For one brief moment, I forgot my pain and I forgot the darkness and I felt myself smile. I saw the leaves falling like candy colored rain and felt the warm sun and I smiled for sure. I thought what a beautiful morning it was. Plain as though she were sitting next to me, I heard my mother 's voice say, "I am here"
A strong and poignant message that changed me forever. I would find my mother's presence only in the celebration of life, not in my sorrow.
This year, for some reason. I decided to celebrate Christmas. This past year, I'd sustained a loss that in many ways mirrored the death of my mother. If I'd learned anything about losing someone you love it's that healing doesn't come with isolation and sadness, it comes with celebrating all of life. So I bought a tree and just finished with the lights. Tomorrow, I'll add the ornaments. I want to be a part of this again.
I'd received a very special birthday card last month. It was from a lady who lived on the street I did as a child. Her home was often a safe haven for me and she always welcomed me. I'd watch her cook. She made home-made pasta and cooked German dishes. Her husband taught me how to ride a motorcycle and how to garden in their huge backyard. She was very special to me, still is. Her birthday is today and I had to look up her address after all those years, she still lives on the same street. I had to find an old leather bound day-planner that had since been replaced by my "smart phone". I hadn't touched this dusty old planner for years and when I opened it, I found a long forgotten note.
The note came just weeks after my mom died. She'd sent me a gingerbread house before she passed and it was delivered at Christmas, after she was gone. I kept the little note and forgot I'd stuck in the address book until today.
The note says, "Merry Christmas, Love Mom