One of the themes I have tried to reinforce to my kids over the years is around the lifetime of “firsts” that awaits them. We all have different experiences but I know, for me, I often felt trapped as a teenager – physically and emotionally – with no real understanding of the greater world that awaited.
Most of the focus of this has been on the external world that they could anticipate outside of their home, their family unit, their town and their current group of friends. Only in recent years have I recognized the equal importance that inner freedom has as much as outer freedom, perhaps more, but you have to start somewhere.
I have always been excited, and to be honest, a little sad, about the life that awaits them – a life that doesn’t include me as much but is rightfully theirs to pursue. We have spoken about life after high school – first glimpse of physical freedom while at college (and my son will attest that I was actually “spot on” with that one, especially having a premature exit from college due to a pandemic), first loves, first jobs and a slew of first travel experiences, to name a few.
I didn’t do my job, however. The truth is that many “firsts” are born out of “lasts”. This, I recognize, was not a discussion I was ready to have.
Often, when I am running along the canal near my home, particularly when I’m struggling (literally and/or metaphorically), I force myself to consider that this is my last run. This is the last time I will feel the cool breeze skim my face, or see the geese in the canal or watch the patterns of light streak the leaves on the trees as the gently sway, hanging over the water. It gives the whole experience a heightened sense of purpose.
That’s how I feel this mother’s day. Because this is the first one without my mom. I recall contemplating whether to visit her and my dad last Mother’s Day as there was nothing all that special planned. I know I thought that I would regret it if I didn’t and something would happen in the future. Little did I know that less than a year later, she would be gone.
I remember making the trip by myself and just spending time with my parents in their den. We didn’t do anything in particular other than just talk and I think we ordered in Chinese food, if I recall. I did the 3 hour drive back home that evening as I had work the next day and received a very grateful note from my mom. Looking back, I realize I chose to spend that day with her for my sake as much as for hers. It was the last Mother’s Day with her and this is the first without her.
You see, I was painting a partial picture for my kids. A lifetime of firsts does await them. The reality is that they are not all joyful. They could all be meaningful, though. That counts. That’s where the growth happens. That’s where we are called back to our humanity as misguided forces try to push us away into our own myopic systems of living where jobs, playdates, work commitments, the health challenge de jour and other ancillary distractions, continue to try and keep us in a haze.
I’m grateful for the firsts. I’m grateful for the lasts. I’m grateful for having a mother who never wavered from her commitment to family.
On the day we buried my mother, I spoke briefly about her and this is what I said:
As I said my last goodbyes to my mother this weekend, I whispered in her ear that, if she could, to please show me a sign that she heard me and is ok.
Reaching. Grasping. Begging. Call it what you will but it’s a child’s last attempt to hold onto what has moved on.
I went to sleep that night hoping I might wake up recalling a lucid dream – where she appears as I remember her at a healthier time. It was not to be. At least not yet.
But then I did realize something from the evening before – and as silly as it may sound, it involved the simple act of cracking open a fortune cookie. My dad, sister, Aunt, Uncle cousin and I went to get something to eat after a very long day. My fortune simply read “Never give up” and I stuck it in my wallet, which I don’t typically do. I realized in the morning, there it was.
Never give up. Not typically one to be subtle – or turn down a decent meal – could this be the message my mother was sending?
You see, for anyone who knew my mother – I mean really knew her, those three words hold more meaning than I could ever convey in a well crafted memorial.
My mom never gave up – even when you wished she would once in a while. Sure, she could give in – accept the situation and dance with new rhythms handed to her – age, health, the elements of time – but she would never give up. Whether it was slowly walking on the bumpy sand from boardwalk to beachfront balancing with a chair in front of her and my dad at her side so she could spend time with her family in Ocean City or reworking schedules to never miss a concert, play, ceremony or other grandchild’s event – she never gave up. Ever.
At my lowest when the universe seemed to conspire to teach me lessons I was unwilling to accept, it was my mother who repeated “you can’t give up, you just have to go on”. This is the fortitude that drove her deep devotion to family. This is the resolve that kept her going. This is the message that in the darkest of moments we must never lose grip of, no matter how tired we may be of holding on.
It will never be the same without my mother here on this earth but I remain grateful that we are able to witness the power of persistent love. I hope we all can take that with us today and for all time.
I love you mom and I promise, I’ll never give up.
May all the mothers and all those who are showing up as mothers take heed in your work. It is work. And it matters. It matters a lot.
Until next time,