It was just a year ago that we were preparing to leave for Michigan to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday. We had planned a surprise open house for her. Eighty years was something to shout about! And the “icing on the cake” was that two months prior a scan revealed no evidence of the ovarian cancer that she had been battling for months with surgery and chemotherapy. It was a happy day filled with love and gratitude. I smile when I recall HER smiles that day. And that she wore that silly paper birthday hat the entire afternoon! It looked quite smart on her new short hair. And the twinkle was back in her eyes that day. But, the best was her smile.
I remember her and Dad’s laughter while growing up. And them singing some of the craziest songs in the car! I remember the house full of company on weekends – such good times – and laughing ’til our sides hurt. I remember a rough patch when the stresses of jobs, and money, and who knows what else, brought fewer smiles. But I remember them getting through that. We all did. And we smiled again.
I also remember getting on her wrong side. And hearing her stories of other people who had done the same. She was not hard to understand in those moments. A friend recalled some times during his youth when she showed him what he referred to as “influential love.” Translation: Big Trouble. No smiles.
I remember her smile on my wedding day, and the days she and Dad came to meet their new granddaughters. And watching her as she watched those granddaughters grow. And how she attended each high school and college graduation. Watched them become brides and grow into wives and mothers. I watched her meet her great-grandchildren, the hugs, the kisses. I remember all of her sweet, proud smiles.
I remember a thousand other things that made up life with my mom. All of the things, good or bad, easy or hard … all the blessed mess of real life.
I remember her voice on the phone. Especially the day last fall when she called to tell me the cancer was back. We had all suspected, and now it was confirmed. There were no smiles that day. Just tears. I remember her strength and confidence as she went through the next few months. More chemotherapy. More time. One more Thanksgiving together. One more Christmas together. And more smiles.
And then on April 1st I found myself returning to Michigan, to a hospital room, rather than a birthday party. There were doctors and nurses, and questions, and prayers. And no good answers. And on April 2nd she left us.
And just like that, in a moment, what is left is memories. Just the sweet pain of remembering my mom. And her smiles.
I love you, mom. Happy birthday.