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When mom isn’t here to celebrate Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has not felt the same for the last 18 years. Mother’s Day 2003 was the last time I got to celebrate this holiday with my mom. And because she was battling lung cancer then, it was hard for me to focus on the joy and gratitude I’d always associated with this day. I was distracted, worried, pushing fear away. I didn’t want to imagine future Mother’s Days without her.

At that time, my kids were two and five and I’d really begun embracing Mother’s Day as my holiday, too. I treasured it as much as my birthday, because being a mother had so powerfully awakened me to my purpose and to who I was. But on that Mother’s Day in 2003, my thoughts and heart were fully focused on my mom.

Every precious memory

As I look back, a collection of random memories flow freely, and when woven together, they paint a picture of the beautiful soul I am blessed to call Mom.

My mom, Nancy, was a teacher before I was born when she was 24. She had a little shoebox of adoring notes from her students, who didn’t want her to leave to have her baby. But I thank God that she did, and that she remained a stay-at-home mom to me and my little brother until we were in high school. Even then, her work as a party planner meant she was always there for us before and after school.

My mom loved big salads, apples, chocolate peanut butter ice cream and yellow roses. She loved gardening, long walks and golf. She was an amazing cook and baker, and keeping her company in the kitchen or cooking with her are among some of my loveliest memories. Many of these memories come to life for me as I prepare her recipes for my own family. Sometimes, it can almost feel like she’s right there with me.

From when I was very little, her arms were the place I always felt the most loved, safe, comforted. When I was scared from a bad dream or thunderstorm, I always felt protected when I was snuggled next to her. Anytime I was home sick from school, the best feeling was leaning into her embrace on the couch as we watched tv together. Her touch was healing.

When my dad was traveling on business, my mom and brother and I would have a sleepover in their bed, a tradition that I cherished and continued with my children (until they outgrew it).

I could talk with my mom about anything – she always held me in a space of love even if she disagreed. When I chose to leave my job and move to Atlanta with David (who I had been dating for 2 years but was not engaged to), Mom supported me. She shared her honest reservations but made sure I knew that she was there for me no matter what I decided.

As a mom myself, I get it

I turned to my mom for guidance and her thoughts countless times. But I recall a few times, when my daughter Mia was very little, my mom jumped in with (unsolicited) advice, and I responded less than kindly. Her face showed the sting my words brought, and thinking back on this makes me so sad. I wished I’d responded with more gentleness and grace.

Towards the end of my pregnancy with Ben, we decided to move back to the Chicago area to raise our children near our families. I will never forget the indescribable joy that radiated from my mom when I shared that we would soon be moving back home. As a mom of college kids now, I can fully grasp just how much this meant to her.

Then she was gone

When I found out, just two years after we’d moved home, that my mom had lung cancer, I held on fiercely to hope and faith. I never imagined a life without her in it. At the hospital the day before she passed away, the doctor suggested we each (my dad, brother and me) say goodbye and give her permission to pass on. I will always remember the pain and anger that welled up inside of me, and I refused to do that. I prayed harder for her to hold on and fight. My prayers weren’t answered, and many times I have wished that I had been selfless enough to express that loving permission.

Thankfully, I’ve had countless dream visits with my mom over the past 18 years, most of them concentrated in the several years following her passing. I’ve felt her hugs, basked in the love radiating from her presence, conveyed my regrets and endless love and I know she is always near – filled with love and pride for the living legacies she created and nourished with her love and example. 

Every Mother’s Day since that one in 2003 has had some emptiness and sadness intermingled with all the love and joy. Precious memories of my mom are shared each time we celebrate this day. And I always get some yellow roses for the woman who taught me everything it meant to be a mom, simply by being Mom to me.

Sydnei Kaplan

Sydnei is Mom to 2 amazing college kids, wife to their dad. She left a marketing career when she became a mom and never looked back. Along the way she discovered her soul’s true calling and found joy not just in raising her own children, but in supporting friends along their journeys. Currently she’s a part-time preschool assistant, blogger at Mom in the Moment, and freelance writer for several parenting sites.

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