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Each night as I tuck my son into bed he reaches his arm from underneath the covers and tenderly rubs the top of my head.  This has been a ritual every night since I lost my hair to chemo.  That sweet gesture was a great comfort to me during the darkest of hours,  and the gesture was often accompanied by words of encouragement and compliments of beauty and whispers of love.  Lately, as my hair has started to grow back, the gesture has taken on new meaning.  With each stroke of my hair it is now my son who is encouraged.  He looks up at me with his big eyes and warm smile and comments on how long my hair is getting and how fast it is growing and how my treatments are almost over.  I get the sense that each strand of hair is a symbol to him that I have beat cancer and life is slowly getting back to normal and he no longer has to worry whether I will be present each night to tuck him in.

So just a few nights ago while rubbing my head, he pulled me close and held on tight.  He asked me if I thought my hair would grow in brown or gray, straight or curly.  As we sat and snuggled and talked about my hair and what it might look like, he pointed to a picture on his dresser of the two of us together.  A picture taken years ago when my hair was long and cancer and chemo had no place in his sweet young life.  We were on one of his preschool field trips and we were smiling and life was simple and full of playdates and picnics and walks in the park.  And he told me that he now always looks at that picture because it helps him remember me.  My heart sank and a lump rose quickly in my throat as I choked back tears and felt his warm hand upon my head.

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And today, as my Facebook feed is flooded with beautiful pictures of strong women who hold the title of mother, I can’t help but think about the memories and the stories and the tears behind each photo.  Some of the photos are current, some even taken today. They are of families at church and brunch and barbecues.  The smiling faces of children and moms huddled together convey such joy and celebration.  And then there are the photos taken long ago, some in black and white, wearing fingerprints and stained with tears.  Grown children sharing sacred memories in honor of the mothers who loved them and are no longer here.  And as I scroll and read the precious tributes I am struck with an unsettling tension of joy and pain, celebration and grief, gratefulness and loss.

Earlier this week a photo of my mother and I popped up on my timeline.  A smile came across my face as I thought about our day together in November 2013.  I had flown from Belgium to California to attend the funeral of a dear friend’s father.  My mom had been officially diagnosed with dementia and her memory was rapidly declining. At the time I did not realize what a gift that unexpected trip home would be.  But now as I look at the photo of us together, smiling and laughing, the sun shining brightly overhead, I am grateful beyond measure for that day we had together.  We had gone to a winery with my father and sister.  We sat on a beautiful veranda underneath a bright blue sky surrounded by vibrant rose bushes and rows of grapevines.  We ordered sparkling wine and reminisced and laughed as my dad tried to balance the champagne corks on his face.  I’m really not sure my mom even knew who I was that day, but I do know for certain –  she felt loved and connected and cared for.  That day was really the last happy memory I have with my mom.  That photo, the two of us smiling, is how I will choose to remember her.

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Mother’s Day.  A day full of emotion. A day set aside to honor the women who carried us in their womb and gave us life.  A day to honor the women who sacrificed themselves in ways we will never understand. These women, young and old, present and gone, gracing the pages of my Facebook and Instagram feed.  My heart is both full and broken as I look at each beautiful face and read about their kindness and their dedication and their legacy.  And I think about the people in my life and how today is so vastly different for each and everyone.  Some are celebrating with their mothers.  Some are mourning and grieving a mom who passed years ago.  For some today is their first Mother’s Day without their mom.  Some are new moms and for the first time are celebrating their initiation into the sacred club of motherhood. Some are grieving their inability to have children and some are shattered by the child they lost.

And today is both beautiful and painful for me.  I was able to celebrate this special day with my family after battling through the toughest year of my life.  I was spoiled with breakfast in bed and a gourmet lunch and flowers and hugs and I love you’s.  I’m thankful that my son can lay his hand upon my head tonight and rub my hair and know that fear is finally being replaced with life and healing.  I’m overwhelmed that God has given me another Mother’s Day with my children.  And it’s painful because while my mom is still living, I am but a distant memory lost somewhere years ago to the ravages of dementia.  Today I sit and sift through pictures and quietly honor her and try to remember.  Each picture bringing to my mind our life together.  Each picture conjuring up emotions I have not allowed myself to feel for quite a while.  One picture in particular stands out.  I am probably 9 months old and she has me sitting up on a bed.  Her lips are nestled into my chin and we are both smiling.  It’s a perfect picture of a mothers love.  And I stare at it, and I miss her.  I slide my fingers over her face and think about how much my mom must have loved me at that moment.  And I sit quietly and thank God for my mother, and I cry a thousand tears.

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I’m so thankful you don’t have to miss me mom, but I sure miss you.  This song is for you.

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