My First Mother's Day Without My Mom

I've been steeling myself for Sunday since my mom passed away. Now the countdown is on.

Julia, mom and son
Photo: Courtesy of Julia Edelstein

There are only four days until Mother's Day, and my inbox won't let me forget. Every few minutes, some retailer I never should've given my email address sends me a little reminder:

"50% off handbags for mom!"

"Tell mom how much you love her!"

"Send mom flowers!"

"Your mom deserves the best!"

In this age of data mining, the tone deafness of these ads is almost funny.

"Excuse me, overpriced clothing brand," I feel like writing back, "Don't you know my mom died in September, and that this will be my first Mother's Day without her? I posted the obituary on Facebook. Get your creepy tracking software working correctly!"

But of course I don't write that. Instead I quickly delete the messages without reading them, and sigh, because it's too late: I've been reminded. And emails or no emails, Mother's Day is coming, and my mother is gone. I've been dreading this day for eight months.

She was 62 when she died. I was 30. The cause was lung cancer—swift and brutal and stunning. She never smoked a day in her life, and died just a few weeks after she was diagnosed. The last thing she said to me before she was put on a ventilator, never to come off, was shouted through an oxygen mask: "Show the nurse pictures of Joey!"

Joey is my son, of course, and along with his two cousins, he was the center of my mom's universe. She traveled hours out of her way to see him every week. She lived to make him laugh. She told everyone she knew all about him. One of her last truly happy days was his 1st birthday party. Another was Mother's Day (that's my mom and Joey on Mother's Day in the photo below).

Mom and Joey
Courtesy of Julia Edelstein

It was my first Mother's Day as a mom and I was jubilant. So was my mother—beaming with pride at having raised two daughters who had become mothers themselves. Although my mother seemed more tired than usual, she still ran around after our kids, smothering them with kisses and compliments. The three of us spent the morning in my parents' king-sized bed, my sister and I with our babies at our breasts, all of us eating French toast cooked by our husbands. "So grateful to be celebrating our first Triple Mother's Day!" my sister and I posted on Facebook, assuming we had a seemingly endless supply of these days in store. I remember walking around the house that day with a wide grin plastered across my face. I was so happy I could burst.

Now I am left wondering: Was that it for me? Was that my one-and-only happy Mother's Day as a mom?

Maybe. And maybe not. Over these last few months, I've started to learn that happiness and grief can co-exist. That time helps, even in the tiniest increments. That I don't have to think about my loss every second of the day for it to matter. But I'm also realizing that once in a while it's important to forget about happiness, and to focus on connecting with my mom instead.

This Sunday, just like last year, I will spend the day at what is now my dad's house. There will be food and family, flowers and laughter, and many moments of happiness, as is inevitable when you're with people you love. I'll be pampered—as all moms should be on Mother's Day. But instead of sitting in the garden with my mom, I will go to the cemetery to visit her grave. And instead of talking to my mom, I will talk about her—about what she would've said, and how she would've dressed, and whether she would've approved of the dinner menu. I won't quickly delete the off-key Mother's Day emails that land in my inbox; I'll let myself be reminded. I will look at photos of her, and watch videos of her, and miss her. I'll even post about her on Facebook, just like all the moms my age whose mothers are still living.

My mom can't receive flowers or a card or a new scarf or a purse at 50% off, but Sunday is still my mother's day—happy or not.

Julia Edelstein is the senior health editor at Parents magazine. This Sunday will be her second Mother's Day as a mom.

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