I started the tradition over a decade ago. I had moved to Boston from where I grew up in central New York and had my first taste of a more independent adult life outside the familiar shelter of a college campus or comfortable hometown neighborhood. Just like anything else in life, it took some time to adapt to my new zip code away from family. One thing that helped me through that restless adjustment phase was how proud my mom was of me. She would tell anyone who would listen that her daughter was going to graduate school and living in Boston, while proudly flashing her brag book with proof of my new “fabulous life.” (The reality of a broke grad student was far from fabulous, but to my mother, perception was reality.)
Like any mom would be, she was proud that I had the courage to leap out of my comfort zone and create a life of my own. Each year, when the snow started to melt and Mother’s Day approached, I would begin planning a special weekend in Boston for my mom (since she was in her glory witnessing my new life in person). She would breeze into town on a Friday, set up camp at my modest apartment, and we would spend Mother’s Day weekend together. We shopped in the city and indulged in too many carbs in the North End. My friends and I would take her to our local watering holes and fill her in on the gossip of our simple (childless) lives. During one visit I excitedly introduced her to my new boyfriend, who would later become my husband.
On those Mother’s Days, we would brunch outside and sip mimosas in the warmth of the first days of Boston spring. We shared stories and plates of New England seafood and gabbed future plans. Like most mother/daughter relationships, it wasn’t a perfect dynamic. We were very different people and had our typical “stuff” to work out. But I always considered her my safe haven — that person who you feel comfortable revealing the most unflattering parts of yourself.
Fast forward several years later, and the Mother’s Day visits to Boston abruptly came to a close. We found out my mom had cancer, and, with much heartache, we said goodbye to her in the fall of 2011. My husband and I spent our wedding anniversary driving back to Boston from her funeral, emotionally drained and wondering out loud how she could have been dancing at our wedding just a year before.
A few months after that, I found out I was expecting my first baby, which was the first time I truly understood the meaning of the word I had thrown around at various occasions of my life — bittersweet. I realized that bittersweet is becoming a mother right after losing your own. There is sadness, but there is also great joy. I am a mother now, but I am without a mother.
Each year as Mother’s Day approaches I still get that familiar itch to start making plans for my mom. I inevitably go through some old cards, reminisce with pictures, or read her old emails. I always keep her memory alive in whatever plans we make on that special day. Even though it’s been almost eight years, the thought that she will never meet her grandchildren or witness me as a mother still sometimes feels too much to bear. But I know that, just like a decade ago, she is proud. While we can’t spend our Mother’s Days together anymore physically, I know she is still with me, still silently applauding the life I have created. And that, my friends, is truly bittersweet.