I will not wear a white rose or carnation as tradition calls for on Mother’s Day. Not this Sunday. Not ever.
“If your mother is alive, you wear a red one, a white one if she is not,” I can still hear Mama telling me as a little boy, pinning a small red rose to my chest before church.
I always wore a red one.
For weeks, I have been dreading this Sunday, battling angst and tears, mixed with memories of Mama. Wrestling with the difficulty of losing her nine months ago. Facing my first Mother’s Day without her.
Although Mama had Alzheimer’s and was diagnosed last summer with stage 4 cancer—and although we were “prepared” for what doctors said was the inevitable — I have come to believe that nothing — absolutely nothing — can prepare you for the death of a parent. The death of your mother.
Last August, I stood alone in the cemetery after the funeral procession and everyone, except a dear friend, had left. I watched as cemetery workers lowered my mother’s white casket into her grave and filled it with dirt.
I felt a sense of peace that Mama’s suffering was over. A sense of completion in laying to mortal rest and peace the woman who gave me life. A measure of comfort in keeping my promise to Mama that I would take care of her.
And yet, I felt the most agonizingly hollow pain that I have ever known, as I came face to face with the reality that my mother was gone. That I would never again hear her speak, call my name, laugh, or delight in the arrival of another Mother’s Day.
Since then, I have, at times, reached for my cellphone to call her — forgetting that she can no longer answer.
Over these months, an array of emotions have ebbed and flowed, sometimes coming upon me unsuspectingly with insuppressible intensity, manifested by an uncontrollable flow of tears. Sometimes anger.
I have been angry with God. Angry with some about what more they “could” or “should” have done, in my estimation, to help my mother during her illness. Angry that I did not have more time with Mama, even if the pages of my life are filled with images of her.
I realized long ago that she would not always be here. That loving mothers are a gift not to be taken for granted.
So I sought to make memories, to try and be a better son. Over the years, I sometimes brought roses to her job — just because. When I lived abroad, and in Virginia and Michigan, and when we took in the icy breath and spray of Niagara Falls that spring of 2000, Mama was there.
She was there — at every celebration, at every graduation and special occasion — smiling, cheering, beaming. And yet, despite my giving, Mama always managed to give me so much more. More than I could ever have hoped to give to her.
Even in her illness, the light that shone in her eyes whenever I walked into the nursing home, or the thousand times she kissed my hand and told me how much she loved me, how proud she was of me and how glad she was that I was her son were like breath to my soul.
These memories help comfort me. For they are a reminder that for as long as we have life and breath, our mothers live inside of us. They are a reminder that a mother’s love is eternal.
And reason enough, for me, to always wear a red rose on Mother’s Day.