05/10/2012 12:02 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

Missing Mom, But Messages Stand After 16 Years

Mother's Day falls on my birthday this year. My mom and I loved these double-celebration days. We treated ourselves to sparkling wine, a delicious Italian meal and cheesecake. This year, I'll observe both occasions without her.

My mom died last April and since then, I've been living in a new reality, one where everything is familiar and yet nothing makes sense. I left the life I knew that is New York -- media parties, international cuisine by the block, no need for a car -- and came back to Cincinnati to take care of all things estate-related.

You can't really prepare for the hole in your life that's left after losing your mother. Being back here, I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that while everything around me was in its place -- her green bathrobe, the stacks of medical bills, the Italian pottery -- she wasn't here. It's just temporary, I thought. I'll give her a call and go pick her up. I'll make the coffee in the morning, she'll have at least one cup before she takes her morning meds and then we'll eat breakfast. But none of that ever happened. Instead, I found myself going through drawers and closets, saving momentos and Mothers Day cards and donating clothing. And I cried a lot.

What I miss the most is simply talking to her. We talked about everything and I counted on her sage advice when I was dealing with career and life questions. I've really needed her this past year, as I began a new career in fitness, wondering if I can make it work, how do I get a day job, should I merge my media experience with the health and wellness stuff, or should I even try to make a go of it? What would she advise? Then I found some answers in an unlikely place. While going through a drawer, I discovered a stack of printed emails she wrote me from 1996-97, when I was living in Bologna, Italy.

"The lows are part of living, Jan. You can't stay high all the time. The secret: knowing that the lows will pass. Even keel is hard for everyone and if it were that easy to achieve, there would be no need for psychiatrists. Please hang in there!"

I was in Italy on a Rotary International scholarship. I changed my life that year, too, leaving behind all I knew for the opportunity of a lifetime. And sometimes Mom had to remind me of that, especially when the chaos of the country would get to me.Those were some lonely days accompanied by self-doubt. She put it all in perspective, writing that I'd learned so much just from being there, both culturally and socially.

"Emotionally you have learned to survive loneliness. That's a great big heap of learning."

After the scholarship period ended, I saw my future as staying in Italy. I'd get a job and live there on a Visa for many years. But things didn't exactly go according to my plan and I got discouraged. So I'd write Mom and she'd come back with magic words.

"It must feel good to you to know what you have accomplished. No one can ever take the experience away. Not the joy; nor the pain; the lessons learned; the people you met; your tutoring experience... When it is all behind you, you will have the KNOWLEDGE of the experience. You cannot appreciate it now -- but it is a treasure."

I do appreciate it now, more than I ever have. I've had plenty of lonely moments this year, missing her, missing my close friends who were a subway stop away. I've faced new challenges and I've accepted them. As Mom wrote:

"Remember: success equals effort. I hope you do what you need to do for yourself. Don't be scared. I'm right here to help."

She is right here. She'll always be with me every time I make a decision based on those lessons learned.

"Believe in yourself. I believe in you. Get that 'get-up-and-go' spirit back. You have had a good year so far because you took risks and were willing to work hard. Let it continue."

I will always miss my mom. And I will always think about her. But then I will heed her orders and focus and believe in myself. To stop reaching for a goal would be a disservice to her.

"Have a good weekend and stop worrying. Be positive. Be professional. Be good. I'm always thinking about you. Don't worry. Things will work out one way or another. Love, Mom."