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A heavy heart on Mother’s Day

It’s been said that when a cardinal appears in your yard it’s a visitor from heaven. I’ve been spending a good amount of time on my porch during quarantine. This daily ritual has offered many moments with the birds and trees. I’ve observed limbs acquire leaves and listened to songbirds serenade the neighborhood. And when a cardinal lands on a branch, I feel like it’s my mom visiting from afar. 

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s not an easy holiday for me. I wish I could focus on my own motherhood instead of grieving my mom, but it’s a challenging feat. I’ve never been good at celebrating my own accomplishments, and Mother’s Day is no different. Although I love being a mother, the day has never been about me. 

By the time I was born, my mom was 39 years old. She’d been told she could not have children but then got pregnant with my sister and three years later, me. I think because my parents were older, they were fully grateful and allowed their daughters to be the center of their worlds. My sister and I felt this. We knew how much we were adored by both of our parents. They didn’t always have the means to spoil us with material items or gifts, but they spoiled us heavily with love and affection. 

My mom and I had a lot of similarities. We loved books, traveling, writing, movies and cooking. We were always the early birds, up early drinking coffee and watching “Good Morning America” while my dad and sister were the night owls who slept in. 

The night I had my first son, my mom was with me. When I held my baby after an exhausting labor, she smiled and said, “You did so good.” She then called my dad, who was traveling for work, and left him a long message on his voicemail. I recorded the message from his phone after she passed. It’s one of my most treasured keepsakes. The pride and excitement in her voice is evident. 

When I had my second son, my mom took care of my older child. I went into labor while teaching at Waynesville Middle School, so the day was more chaotic than I had envisioned. I barely had time to pass off my 3-year-old to my mom before flying to the hospital, my water breaking upon arrival like a scene in a movie. I was not worried about my older child, however. I knew he was in the best hands. I could focus fully on the birth of my youngest. 

I miss many things about my mom, but most of all, I miss the feeling of having her here on earth to share joys and sorrows, worries and thoughts. It was second nature to text and call throughout the day to tell her something one of the boys did or said or to ask a question about a recipe or get a suggestion about a book. We saw one another multiple times a week. She was part of my everyday. 

As the cancer worsened and her spritely personality faded, she was still my go-to person. That kept her going until the end. Even when I knew her energy didn’t lend well to helping with two young boys, I let her do it because it got her out of bed that day. It gave her purpose. 

There is absolutely nothing like having a bond with your mom. The positive is that I understood this while she was still here. I never took our relationship for granted. I appreciated her in every way. 

Our last conversation before sepsis took over was about how pretty her toenails looked. After I complimented her, she said, “I got them done with the gift card you gave me for my birthday.” Around that time she drifted off to sleep. Her lungs filled with fluid, her heart failed, her organs shut down one by one, and she never recovered. 

You can’t know what your last words will be to those you hold close, but for me, that final conversation makes my heart smile. Those words were symbolic of the happy, easygoing relationship she and I enjoyed throughout my life. 

Now, as Mother’s Day approaches, I try to think of all the beautiful memories and the joy she brought everyone around her. I focus on the azaleas blooming. They were one of her favorites. I focus on fresh tomatoes. She loved a good tomato and mayo sandwich. Perhaps most of all, I watch for the cardinals, because when you lose someone you love, any sign they are still with you means everything. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and marketing specialist for SMN, SML and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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