This Mother’s Day marks the fourth one where I will not hear my mother’s voice telling me I didn’t need to call her. I won’t hear her say on the other end of the phone, “Yes, Dear, I’m still kicking around,” and then proceed to fill me in on every detail of her life since we last spoke. I won’t hear her say, “You shouldn’t have, Dear,” like she used to when I arrived at her place with a two-dollar coffee and a donut. I won’t scrunch my face in mock anguish as she pulls me down to her level in order to give me a peck on the cheek. The visits to the cemetery are nowhere nearly as fun as sitting in her kitchen listening to her talk about, well, nothing much. But she did it with such enthusiasm.
There were many times I would sit in her kitchen listening to her tell her stories of her nasty neighbour or the lunch she had with the other “old ladies” (her terminology) or insights into the latest crime book she was reading. I freely admit that I tuned out more than once, my mind wandering elsewhere. She’d always bring me back to reality by asking me where my next trip was, and then I’d have to reassure her that my destination was not dangerous. As the years passed, she relied more and more on having me or my brother be there to listen to her. And listen we did, even though there were times when I really had no interest in hearing my mother talk about the type of salad dressing she tried at the restaurant.
I don’t think I’m that patient with everyone. But when it came to my mother, it was, quite simply, what I owed her. Her life – her only purpose, and it was quite clear – was to take care of me and my brother. Nothing else mattered. The word “sacrificed,” while often overused to amplify the self-importance of our choices in life, knows no truer meaning than through the life my mother led. Her personal happiness was not even an afterthought; her life was spent – completely spent – with the unique purpose of ensuring that my brother and I lived the best possible lives. The result of this selfless act was not lost on me, although I admit I did not fully appreciate what she did when I was younger. Hopefully I wasn’t too late in telling her how much I appreciated all that she did for me. Beyond the good manners (“Take your hat off in a restaurant”), the endless array of practical skills (riding a bike, no. Ironing and effectively using Saran Wrap, yes.), and the adherence to a strong set of morals and values (“Never go to bed mad at your mother”), I take from her the importance of respecting others, of treating everyone with dignity, and having the courage to love and to remain strong no matter how hard things get.
A few days before she passed away, she had lost her ability to say anything coherent, to move on her own, and to feed herself. There was, from all appearances, nothing left of the woman who cared for me. As I sat on the hospital bed feeding her, I could no longer hide my sorrow and let tears fall down my cheek. She struggled to grab her napkin. At first I didn’t know what she was doing, then realized she was bringing the napkin up to my cheek to wipe my tears away. The essence of what makes us human, what makes us caring, what makes us strong,can be seen no more clearly than by the love a mother has for her children.