It happens like this every year: I fade out, slowly at first, and then more quickly, until all at once I am achey and slow and detached. I think I am PMSing, or maybe dying. Then I hear an ad on the radio or see a box of floral-wrapped chocolates and I remember. Mothers’ Day is almost here.
Is it typical to feel sucker-punched by a minor holiday? I’m not sure. Is it normal to have such a bodily reaction to grief, even eight years later? Perhaps grief has no conventions.
All that I’m really sure of is that this day, with its pastel-colored cookies and pink roses, seems intended to unapologetically remind me of the vacancy in my life, starting with the well-intentioned busy-bodies of the world.
“What are you getting your mom for Mothers’ Day?”
I can tell you, because I have tried, that avoiding this question is impossible. I can also tell you that for a brief, awkward moment, I enjoy the look of horror I get when I respond with as much blunt force as possible, “She’s dead.” Then I recall for the tenth time of the day everything my mother endured, the hope-filled tragedy of the last Mothers’ Day we had, and the fullness of my despicable nature hits me.
It went something like this: I baked a cake. Carrot, which was her favorite. The icing was lopsided and the words were difficult to read, and my childish insistence that it was the thought that counted did not hold up against my father’s insistence that we do this right. I scraped off the icing and tried again. My brothers carried a plant, not flowers, because my father claimed that flowers were for the dead.
I hadn’t even contemplated death as an option.
In fact, our Mothers’ Day celebration was two-fold: the usual festivities, of course, but also the joy of a family whose matriarch was coming home from the hospital. The doctors claimed her cancer was on the mend, that remission was a possibility, and we were thrilled. The hospital room, drab and impersonal, felt bright and full of light. Mom was even able to eat some cake.
As it turned out, she wasn’t getting better. Over the course of the next two weeks, her life expectancy dropped from several years to several months to several weeks to maybe days. Between attending school and being shuffled off to friends’ houses, I barely saw my mother again. So this is my final memory of her—so very thin but still smiling, feet swathed in blue hospital socks, laughing as she admires the blooming plant—tainted by the knowledge that the joy was false, the celebration almost a joke in light of the weeks to come.
“It’s okay; it’s not a big deal,” I will add, at least twelve times this year, and watch with mild (guilty) amusement as the tension eases off their faces, replaced by the relief of having moved on.