05/09/2014 12:24 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

My Mother Made Friends Wherever She Went

From the moment I was born, I was blessed to have a champion, a defender, a protector, a teacher, a hero and a best friend all wrapped into one person. I called her Mama. I can still remember how sad and bewildered I felt when I first learned that not all children were as fortunate.

But my mother did not limit her tireless nurturing and care to my father, my younger brother and me. She always went further. Throughout her life she was the "go-to" person in her family, a trusted ally to her friends and a warm, friendly presence to every person she encountered.

I can recall one long bus ride with my mother when she engaged in a lively conversation with a person I did not recognize. After we had reached our destination, I asked her who that person was. She just smiled, shrugged and said, "I don't know her name, but if you are friendly to people, most people will be friendly right back to you." It was one of my earliest lessons in how to make friends of strangers.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, my mother's generosity and kindness was well known. One experience I will never forget took place when she befriended a family that lived a few doors down from us. Like my brother and me, there was an older sister and a younger brother. However, the sister, named Regina, had Down syndrome. I was too young at the time to know what that meant. But in my own way, I understood that Regina was a special child. She adored my mother and, like all the other children who had trouble pronouncing our last name, my mother became known to her as Mrs. May.

In the small two-story building where we lived, we had a mail-slot in the front door and, once a day, my mother would go down to pick up whatever the mailman had dropped off. Sometimes, we would accidentally receive mail for another family in the neighborhood who, although not related to us, had the same last name. But on this day, my mother came down the narrow hallway steps to find a veritable mountain of mail waiting for her! She was stunned to discover that, mixed in with the mail that actually belonged to us, was mail clearly addressed to a number of our neighbors.

As she sat at the kitchen table sorting through the stacks of envelopes, the doorbell rang and it was Regina's mother. The sweet woman apologized saying that she had caught her daughter in the act of "collecting" mail from all over the neighborhood shortly after it had been delivered and carrying it by the armfuls to leave at our house. When asked why she was doing that, Regina told her mother that it was "a gift for my friend, Mrs. May." Regina's mother said that she had gently explained to her daughter why she must never do this again. Then, after both mothers had shared a brief laugh and a sigh over the loving, well-meaning, if misdirected actions of Regina, they joined forces to re-deliver all the mail where it was really meant to go. I have countless memories of my mother's lasting impact on people, but in my mind, the story of Regina's determined effort to demonstrate her love and appreciation for my mother's kindness, will always hold a special place in my heart.

As the inevitable first Mother's Day approached in the aftermath of my mother making her transition into spirit in 2004, the pain of her physical absence was still so keen, that I was feeling profoundly lost, lonely and bereft. On a break at work, I took a brief walk outside and just before I returned to the office, I paused and, tenderly touching my mother's wedding band (which I had come to wear on a chain around my neck) sent a silent message out to her. I asked if she would please send me "an unmistakable sign" that she was at peace and all was well.

As the day wore on, I got so busy that I never gave my request another thought. When my workday finally came to an end, I headed home and upon entering my apartment, followed my routine of turning on my computer.

After settling in for the night, I went online to check my email and there, near the top of my list of waiting emails, was a message with the following subject line: "Linda, celebrate Mom." My breath caught in my throat and tears sprung to my eyes. I knew, in an instant, that it was my mother's answer to my earlier question. And, just as I had requested, she had sent me "an unmistakable sign" that all was well with her. What, in reality, was a simple promotional Mother's Day message from an online store, gave me one of the first in a long series of unmistakable "Mom Reminders" -- gentle assurances that she is never more than a thought away.

So while I can never thank my mother enough, I certainly do celebrate her. I celebrate not only the faith she always had in me, the encouragement and guidance she provided to me and the love with which she embraced me from the moment I was born. But, I also celebrate how, in spirit, she continues to be a comforting presence, the beloved touchstone of my life and the eternal heart and soul of my every inspiration.

When I was 16 years old, I wrote a poem in my mother's honor. The closing stanza is as timely today as it was the day I wrote it. It reads:

No matter where life leads me
Or which dreams I may pursue,
Whatever good I do on earth
I owe it all to you.

I love you, Mom. I celebrate and cherish you, always. This one's for you.