My mother lost her life to breast cancer exactly 30 years ago on March 20th. A little girl at the time, I have since had difficulties remembering her. The images that come to mind when I think of her are those captured in a few old photographs and cemented in my head from continually looking at them over the years: Her standing in our kitchen baking a peach pie with flour on her face, or sitting on that vibrant gold couch twirling her hair with that smile that is only hers.
Only one image sticks in mind that has not been coaxed by old photographs. To this day, I can recall with vivid detail her body lying in a hospital bed just after she had died. After returning from the local arcade with my sister and cousins to discover her suffering had ended, I wandered into her hospital room for a final goodbye. I stood at the right side of her bed and brushed up against her fingers briefly. I was afraid to touch her or talk to her, and ashamed of feeling that fear too. I suppose I have added details to that vision -- in my mind, she has a full head of hair, but it's unlikely she had any at all.
I have come to realize recently that my memories of my mother over the past 30 years consist more of those times when I have felt her presence since her death than when she was alive. I know that sounds a little bit crazy to some, but for those of you who believe in something far greater than us, as I do, perhaps you can relate.
When my first son was born, my life was complete craziness. I worked 50- to 60-hour workweeks and had a full-time nanny. One night, my husband was rudely awakened by a floor lamp that lit up around 3 a.m. in our little guy's room. Deep in sleep at the time, I neither awakened nor paid any attention to my husband's ramblings about it as I flew out the door that morning, rushed, late and facing project deadlines. That evening, both of us back at home, he checked the lamp. No, the light bulb wasn't loose. No, it didn't have an easy turn-on switch. Actually, it had one of those switches you had to turn three times to get it to work. We went to bed joking about the ghost who lived with us in our 1928-constructed home. The next morning, as I roused at a slower pace, I realized with shame that in the midst of my craziness I had forgotten the importance of the day before -- the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. I broke down immediately upon this realization, feeling instantly connected with her and guided by her presence. She was watching over us. She was looking out for my son -- her grandson. I will never know for sure how that lamp turned on, but I will go on remembering forever my mother as lighting our way.
Fast forward several years to my 35th birthday. We had been recently blessed with another son and two careers that continued at warp speed. We also were contemplating the purchase of a piece of land and, along with it, the design and construction of a new home. As I celebrated my birthday, I felt lost. Pulled in too many directions and realizing that the propaganda I had been sold as a girl -- the "you can have it all" mentality -- was in fact an outright lie. So, I prayed for some direction -- a sign, if you will. My birthday came and went. No sign. The Sunday following my birthday, my husband and I drove our boys out to look at the land again, discussing along the way my current state of emotions. I specifically recall uttering the words, "I didn't get a sign. I asked and asked and asked. And, I didn't get a sign." We drove home, I went to change my shirt, and brushed up against a lump in my breast. There was my sign. From that point on, my life would change dramatically, with gratitude for and focus on the things that matter most to me. For someone who not once performed a self-breast exam and had skipped her latest mammogram, I credit the random discovery of my own breast cancer at an early stage to the angel who already walked her daughter's path.
It turns out, that even though my mother hasn't been here to talk to for the past thirty years, she has been listening all along.
We remember you, mom.
"When our hour is upon us & our beauty surely gone, know you will not be forgotten and you will not be alone." - Rob Thomas