My mother died on November 27, 2012. She’d been sick for a long time, but we thought she was beating the cancer and had been getting better. Then, all of a sudden, the doctors said we better come see her if we wanted to make it while she still lived.

Mom, before me

I have too few pictures of her, relying on my memories of wild curly hair and a smile that lit up her whole face. She was silly and kind, smiling yet sad, always tired and often complaining, but never did she ever give up. She made meals every day for ten people, decorated the house and baked every Christmas, and made every birthday special with amazing cakes.

When I was growing up, she was always trying some new diet, trying to find a way to fight back against the body that weighed her down. A few years before they found the cancer, she lost forty pounds, and she was healthier than she’d been in years. But when we visited her a month before she died, I hardly recognized her. She was skin and bones, a shadow of the woman I’d known.

Her house was never clean, but the dishes were washed every night. Sweeping floors and vacuuming weren’t priorities, but laundry was always cleaned and folded regularly. I honestly don’t know how she found the time to do what she did. I can barely keep up with dishes, and I have a dishwasher and no kids. She had eight kids and she washed dishes by hand.

My earliest memories are of a happy woman who delighted in having babies and found joy in the small things. My teenage memories are of an exhausted woman who was barely hanging on, with so much work to do every day that she probably felt she was hardly keeping her head above water. But when my youngest brother was a teenager, she left to “find herself.” And I believe she did find happiness and rest in the last few years of her life.

 

 

Right to left: Me, Mom, my sister, and Dad

I used to think that “finding yourself” was a ridiculous concept. But, really, how could you know who you are if you’ve been defined as only wife and mother for most of your life? Who are you if you only know yourself as what you are in relation to others?

My mother’s gravestone doesn’t say “beloved wife and mother.” I am so grateful to my father for that.

Five years later, isn’t it time that I moved on? I guess, in some ways, I have. I no longer feel guilty every time I’m happy; I don’t pick up the phone to call her when I want to tell her something (though I wish I could); and I don’t think about her every single day; but I still miss her, and I always will. Mothers Day, her birthday, Christmas (her favourite holiday), and November 27 will always be days when I remember her, and those memories will always be bittersweet. But the sweet outweighs the bitter. I miss her, but I can smile now when I think of her.

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