All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.—Abraham Lincoln
It’s the 20th Mother’s Day without my mom Joyce. TWENTY YEARS. That’s a lifetime. Enough days woven together to raise kids, change careers, move and relish life while tromping through the daily grind. All spent without advice and support from the woman who loved me unconditionally.
I think Mom would say I’ve done a good job of raising my family. She told my sister I was a “good little mother” in the early years of parenting our twin sons. Thank you Debbie for sharing that with me. I’ve held onto that gift more than you can ever know, replaying it over and over when the bumps were especially rough.
Do I think of Mom every day? No. Oh sure I see our birthday photo that lives atop my jewelry chest each day as I make the bed. I say a silent hello. But I don’t always pause to truly think about her. The many ways she lived a rich, spiritual life. How she dealt with a devastating diagnosis that almost took my sister’s life. Of a husband who successfully fought mental demons while she raised her first-born, worked full time and ran the household. Sitting bed-side by her sisters as they were dying. Watching her son struggle with such depression it almost ended badly but through the grace of God, come back to the light.
Faith was Mom’s secret weapon for battle and celebration. She turned to God asking for strength to endure the darkest moments, giving thanks for her life’s blessings. Mom held steadfast to the tenets of her Roman Catholic upbringing. I am still astounded by her passionate statement as she lay dying from cancer how lucky she was to be meeting Jesus soon. My heart wept, hers was jubilant at this prospect. I believe it was no illusion that gossamer rays of light encased her body as we gathered around her that last day, holding tightly joined hands reciting her favorite prayer, the 23rd Psalm.
I have missed out on much mother wisdom in 20 years. Simple things like how to make her famous vegetable soup and which flowers thrive in the sun or shade. Huge life things. How to raise gay sons, how to survive the horrific botched surgery that took Dad’s life, broken ties with my sibling because of our opposing views on gay marriage and LGTBQ human rights. In these murky times, I hear Mom’s words of support, “You’re doing fine Tor. Keep going.” She also said on many occasions that family is the most important thing, more so than money or any earthly goods. She was right.
Some days I just plain miss Mom. I wish I could pick up the phone and hear the minutiae of her life. How her latest quilt is progressing, her new cookie recipe, benign neighborhood gossip. The daily soda can count she picked up on her walks to add to her Vegas play money. My aunts lived in Vegas and Mom would take an annual trek with her girlfriends to visit her sisters. The gray-haired ladies would have a blast sightseeing, eating bargain meals and playing the nickel slots.
On days I miss her most, I find her when I look in the mirror. It’s uncanny how my own looks are morphing into my mother. I stare at my reflection and think she’s on the other side of the glass smiling back at me. My hands and feet are hers, from the arthritis bumps appearing on my fingers, to the curve of my baby toes. Welcome reminders of how much life our hands have experienced, how far we’ve traveled.
Sometimes she sends me signs. Though not when I think I most want them because grief is never where I find her when I need a dose of Momma love. It happens when I’m moseying happily along. A cardinal will dance on the trumpet vine beyond the kitchen window. Chico’s customers named Joyce seek me out. Somewhere Over the Rainbow pops up on Pandora. Random little moments to remind me how thin the veil is.
I experienced this phenomenon 10 years ago at a women’s retreat. Two gifted Reiki practitioners were the vessels who helped me understand it was time to heal from her loss. I had my own brush with a higher power as these fine women shared a message from my mom and grandmother that it was time to throw the weight of those stones off and get on with happiness. I was doing a wonderful job of raising my family. My sons would unfold as beautiful flowers with fulfilling lives. I should walk toward the future with confidence because I was strong, smart and loved. Find joy.
So that’s what I did. I chose joy. I chose Joy-ce.
Twenty years. Glass half full is a better way to celebrate the life of Joyce Madeline LaRoche Mallette. On this Mother’s Day, I will be with my sister. We will recount Mom’s stories, maybe our tears will mingle with laughter, as we honor the woman who is still the center of our lives.
I raise a toast to the most amazing mom I was gifted with for 37 years. Love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.