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Mother's Day Matters

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My kids won't be around for Mother's Day this year. But when they're here, they always make a fuss over me. And I love it.

I don't care that it's a day manufactured by florists and Hallmark. To me it's the most important holiday of the year.

My celebration doesn't require flowers or a card (it does require chocolate.) What I really care about is the sentiment. I take it seriously. Mother's Day matters.

It started mattering the year I had the most memorable Mother's Day of my life.

I wasn't even a mother yet.

I was a freshman at Cornell. One day that spring my father called my dorm out of the blue to arrange a Mother's Day surprise for my mom. She had just gone into the hospital for a back problem -- and he wanted me to fly home and surprise her, just for the day.

I wouldn't have to come up with a gift or remember to send a card. Plus I loved surprises. We hatched a plan.

My boyfriend drove me from upstate New York to the city in his old red and white VW bus. Early in the morning of Mother's Day, I flew from La Guardia to Miami -- excited and eager to be my mother's special delivery surprise gift.

For such a special occasion, to please my parents, I abandoned my jeans and wore a cute outfit. I felt very sophisticated traveling without a suitcase -- officially part of the jet set.

When I arrived, I took a taxi directly to Jackson Memorial Hospital, without stopping to consider the oddity of where I was going. We lived just a few blocks from Mount Sinai Hospital, the private hospital of choice for pretty much anything if you lived on Miami Beach. By contrast, Jackson Memorial was downtown Miami, inner city, a large, no-frills teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Miami Medical School. At the time, I never knew anyone who had ever been there.

I was so enamored by my jet set lifestyle that the hospital selection never sent up a warning light in my brain. I jumped out of my cab and exuberantly bounced upstairs, ready to spring into my mother's hospital room in my cute little outfit. I expected to find my glamorous mother in traction, greeting me with a big smile, a fancy silk robe, and her ever-present pearl necklace.

My entrance -- in fact, the whole episode -- was like a scene stuck into the wrong movie.

My mother was surprised; she even cried. So that part worked. And she did notice my cute outfit, and my father was there, and it was Mother's Day.

But there was nothing festive about the atmosphere in that room. It was medicinal. And my mother matched the setting. There was no pearl necklace, no glamour, no traction. She didn't look like a 41-year old healthy woman having a little back trouble, who would soon be back to normal. She looked weak, and suddenly, frail.

I had no idea -- and no one told me -- that this is how a person looks who is dying of cancer.

No one told me. And I spent those few precious hours on Mother's Day telling my mom the latest on my boyfriend. Then I took a cab back to the airport and flew back to La Guardia, to Ithaca, and my life.

Two months after I surprised my mother on Mother's Day, she surprised me.

Suddenly our beautiful, vibrant mother was gone.

She would never be there for another Mother's Day -- or any other day. Or for any moment that mattered for the rest of my life.

Which is why, and when, Mother's Day began to matter.

I've lived without her for so many more years than I ever had with her; yet my mother still matters. And being a mother myself matters more than anything else I've ever done.

No matter how you feel about your own mother, whether she is here or not, in most of our lives there is a mother that matters. With or without the florists and Hallmark.

So celebrate a mother you know. Celebrate the mother you have. Celebrate the mother you are.

It may not always be "Happy", but Mother's Day matters.