Today is my birthday.

I’ve had 42 of them since the last one I celebrated with my mom. She died when I was 12 years old. Back then, she would spend the day in our kitchen making a birthday cake just for me. Sometimes there would be a party with family and friends, and other times it was just the five of us. But I was always celebrated and made to feel special. And she was at the center of it all. Just like for 12 years, she was the center of my world.

I had a good birthday today. I woke up to my husband playing a birthday song for me he found online. Later, I heard from my children as well as my grandchildren. My husband went shopping and made us a lovely supper. He made my favorite steak, filet mignon, with stuffed baked potatoes. It was a perfect meal. We even finished it off with some dark chocolate, my favorite.

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But all day I have felt just a tiny bit empty. Like I always do when my birthday and other special days roll around. There’s this tiny space inside of me that, if I’m honest with myself, is with me every day.

As pleasant as my birthday was, I can’t stop wishing for the hug I haven’t felt for many years, the one I remember so well that I can actually still feel it.

I want to hear my name roll off her lips, in her voice, wrapped around the smile that was always on her face just for me.

I long for that feeling that radiated off her, the one that let me know I was the most loved person in the world.

Birthdays have a way of adding up. As I’ve counted each one since my mom died, I’ve also been counting my time away from her. And that time is growing more and more every year. But that doesn’t mean I miss her any less.

I wonder, when my mom was dying, if she thought ahead to all the birthdays I would have without her. I wonder if she felt ahead to the sadness that would one day be mine. I wonder if she grieved with me way back then.

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Did she picture me beyond the little girl who wanted nothing more than to hold her all the time? Was she able to imagine the surly teenager I’m sure I would have turned into, the one who no longer thought she had a place next to me? Did she see me as a young woman, a young wife, a young mother? Was she able to think all the way ahead to now, to this place where I amwhat she never had the time to bea grandmother?

I’ll never know any of that, but I suspect she did. I suspect she wished she could bottle up all her love to leave behind for me, love that I could pour out just a tiny bit each year, always making sure I saved enough for later, for when she knew I would still need her.

I imagine she tried to figure out a way to leave her love behind for me.

I miss my mom today, just like I do every day. But I know the way I miss her so much is a reflection of the love she managed to pour out onto me in the 12 short years she had with me.

And, even through my sadness, I still feel like she’s with me. Her eyes just happened to be the exact shade of the ones I look into every time I stare at my daughter’s beautiful face. Her incredible wit comes out of my son’s mouth pretty much every time I talk to him. Snippets of conversations I have with family and friends bring with them an echo of words I heard her say so long ago. Her memory floats around, comforting me even though I can’t have her anymore.

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I missed having a mom reach out to me today. I think she would have made me the orange cake with orange frosting that she was so famous for. Of course, that would have been after the spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread supper she would have served up for me. And the gift? I wouldn’t have needed one.

No gift could match just being with her.

As I sit writing this, my birthday is almost over. It was a good day. And I’m glad to end it with the one person I’ve missed all day. I’m glad to have this time to rest at the end of the day and reflect on the woman whose very life is the reason I’m in this world.

There are four words I’ve longed to say for most of my life. I don’t know what’s been holding me back.

I love you, Mom.

Sandy Brannan

Sandy Brannan, author of Becoming Invisible, So Much Stays Hidden, Masquerade, and Frozen in Time, is a high school English teacher. Creating memories with her grandchildren is her idea of a perfect day. You can follow Sandy and read more of her writing at https://sandybrannan.com  and .