I had a terrific mother.
She took really good care of her baby boy. She cooked what I wanted to eat, even if it wasn’t what everyone else was having. She looked after me when I was sick, which was pretty often. (Of course, it helped that she was a registered nurse.) She took me to school in the morning and picked me up in the afternoon. She tucked me in my bed and kissed me good night. She held me when I cried.
She had a great sense of humor, which was essential for life with our family, ’cause Dad was a practical joker, and my brothers and I were all smart alecs. She loved to laugh, and did it often. And she had a smile that could only be measured in megawatts. Honestly. You could see the room brighten up when she smiled. (I submit the above photo as Exhibit A, B, C…)
She was a very warm, very giving person, always concerned about others’ welfare, and doing whatever she could to help. She saved a woman’s life once who was having a heart attack in church. She looked after my two oldest nieces one summer while their mom was in the hospital. Those are just two examples. She was so compassionate and caring.
She came to me one day when I was eight, and told me she’d signed me up for piano lessons. I remember my exact response as, “You what??”
I mean, come on! Eight-year-old boys don’t take piano lessons! Eight-year-old boys play ball, and other boy things!
But she saw something in me. She saw I had a knack for music, and she wanted to see me develop that. So she saw to it that I practiced regularly (which I hated!) and she came to all my recitals, and she envisioned me becoming a concert pianist one day. (That, of course, didn’t pan out, but that’s another story.)
But Mom loved me very much. She loved my two older brothers, too. Her boys meant so much to her.
I just wish she hadn’t died when I was sixteen.
It was a hospital screw-up.
She had gone in for back surgery. While she was in recovery afterward, someone had administered phenobarbital to her as a sedative. Problem was, no one bothered to check to see if she was allergic to phenobarbital.
Which she was. Highly.
Needless to say, that set off a chain reaction of calamities that ultimately led to heart failure and death. (I’m the same age now she was when she died; just realized that. Kind of a chilling thought.)
I didn’t even know about any of this until many years later. I was told not to come to the hospital that afternoon; just go next door and hang with my best friends until someone came home. I didn’t know anything had gone wrong at the hospital. All I knew that beautiful, starry January night was that my brother came home to tell me Mom was suddenly gone.
People started coming by that night to offer sympathy and support. Dad finally came home, slowly shuffling in with the longest face I’d ever seen on a person. He and I walked straight to Mom and Dad’s bedroom, knelt by the bed and prayed. I think I was basically numb through all those hours after I first received the news.
I couldn’t cry that night. I tried to, but only managed a few perfunctory tears. Maybe I was just too shocked. It probably still hadn’t hit me with full force what just happened.
Until the next day.
I went to school, and spent the whole day in some sort of fog; I was there, but not really. I came home and spent the afternoon with family, and later they went to the funeral home. I don’t recall why I didn’t go the same time as them, but I’ll never forget what happened later that evening. I walked tentatively into the room where Mom lied, my father and my brothers and their wives waiting for me. I started to sign in, like a guest, and one of my brothers gently told me, “That’s all right, little brother, you don’t need to sign in.”
I slowly approached the casket, where my sweet mother lay in peace. I looked down at her beautiful face, absent that megawatt smile.
And that’s when the floodgates opened. I just broke down crying, and kept it up the rest of the night.
It finally hit me. Mom was gone. Really gone.
She called me the morning of her surgery from the hospital before she went into surgery and I left for school. She told me to always be a good boy, and that she loved me.
That was the last time we spoke. Forty years ago.
And I didn’t tell her I loved her.
And the thing that has haunted me to this day is: I never told her. Not once. Not even in response to her saying she loved me. Not even that day. It never occurred to me that would be my last chance.
You know why I didn’t? This is so stupid. I was embarrassed.
It embarrasses me to tell someone, “I love you”, except for my wife. I don’t know why; maybe I feel like it puts the other person in an awkward position. Maybe I’m afraid there will be tears, which makes me feel awkward. Maybe I worry the other person won’t say it back.
But I let those excuses hold me back from saying what I should say more often, to more people. And it held me back from saying it to my mother.
And now, I don’t even have the chance. And believe me, I would give anything to be able to look her in the eye just once to say, “I love you, Mom”.
So, for Mothers’ Day, if your mom is still around, please tell her you love her, while you still can. Even if it embarrasses you. If she isn’t, then wrap yourself in the warm memory of the time she spent with you, and all the many ways she poured her love out for you.
And if you truly don’t love her, perhaps because you feel she’s never loved you, my heart goes out to you; that is a pain that I, luckily, never knew. I wish you comfort and, maybe, even resolution one day.
Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom. I Love You. I always have.
I hope you knew.
P.S. – To my wonderful stepmom: Happy Mothers’ Day to you, as well. I love you very much. I am so glad you came into our family’s life. You are one of the kindest, friendliest, happiest, most down-to-earth, most relentlessly optimistic people I’ve ever been lucky to know. Always know how special you are to me. Blessings on thee.