It was a hot summer day sometime in the middle of high school. I was young and naive, but the ugly six-letter word was looming over our family: cancer. Although I didn’t know it then, this would be our last normal summer before my mother’s health would worsen. Cancer would give way to terminal cancer. It’s funny how something so big can seem so small in those moments.
My mom and I were sitting on our back porch, encased in a narrow hedge of yew bushes. It was a yellow, lazy Saturday, and my brothers and father were at Cub Scouts. I should have been doing my summer reading, but when you are 16 and reading “Self-Reliance,” you start to wonder about your existence. That is what happened at that moment . . .
“Mom? Will you always be proud of me?”
We often had such conversations. I would make a self-deprecating query, and Mom would respond as best as she could without any mommy bias.
“No matter what happens when you grow up, I will always be proud of you.”
“As long as you are a good person.” She pressed her book between her index finger and thumb. She was leaning over her chair in the same way she would later lean over her walker. Her waist was bent forward with her head inclined slightly toward me.
I was sitting on the stone step right below my mother’s feet, so I had to lift my head to see her face well.
I was always jealous of Mom’s deep blue eyes. They were so rich yet waxen, like taffy in a candy store. “What happens if I don’t make it to college? What happens if I am a receptionist all my life?”
Mom rolled her eyes and sounded slightly annoyed, “I still would be proud of you.”
“And what if I am not a good girl?”
“Honey, I will still love you. That’s what I’m supposed to do as a parent. I might yell at you and give you constructive criticism, but that in no way changes how much I love you.” Mom bent down and gently stroked my cheek. It wasn’t patronizing—it contained warmth and tenderness that only a mother can convey.
“You mean that?”
I instinctively knew this was not 100 percent true, but for some odd reason, that didn’t bother me.
I knew that for at least today, my mother believed in me.
Maybe she’d believe in me tomorrow and the next day, and the next—right up until I finally could have that confidence in myself. Perhaps it was mommy bias, but I didn’t care. I felt warm, but I don’t know if it was because of the sun or not.
“I love you, Mom.”
Mom had picked up her book and put her reading glasses back on, “I love you too.”
The memory fades here, and not without chagrin. My mother died close to seven years ago, right after I turned 18.
I can never ask her important questions or gauge if I live up to her standards. I graduated college, moved into my apartment, found a job I love, and married a wonderful man, but my mother wasn’t there. I only have this memory and a hundred more just like it to cling to and cherish.
Memories of lost loved ones seem to matter the most, they are the only real thing to hold to and cherish, and they drive us on.
And memories are enough.
It is funny the little things people remember: how you shared your sweater with them, what your favorite color is, that joke that made them laugh, the candy you shared. There are a hundred tiny insignificant things you could hardly care less about, but somehow, they seem to matter the most.
Hold your loved ones a little closer. Tell them you love them. Smile a little wider. If I learned anything, it is that we only have today and that love will last forever. Cliche, sure. But, dang, if it isn’t true.