Honoring mom on her day

“What should I get my mom for Mother’s Day?”

Boyfriends ask their girlfriends questions like this because girlfriends automatically know how to shop for other people’s moms, especially moms they haven’t met. But that’s another story.

I don’t know what my boyfriend should get his mom for Mother’s Day. I haven’t had to think about Mother’s Day for three years. Come to think of it, I can’t remember how I celebrated my mom’s last Mother’s Day. Did I even do anything? Of course, how could I have known it would be her last?

My mom died a week after I turned 21, in 1998. She had liver cancer and I sat by her bed and watched it eat her for four months. It is time I would not trade for anything.

I don’t remember much of the funeral. The casket was closed because it had been months since she looked like anyone we could recognize. I knew what she was wearing though. I picked it out. It was a dress she was fond of, but not her favorite. It had to be something that would fit her over her misshapen abdomen. The tumor was so large the funeral home requested we find something “loose fitting.”

I didn’t and still don’t like her gravesite. It is south of Klamath Falls, in a Catholic cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery has a stone inscribed with a screed from pro-lifers. Inappropriate, I think, for this place.

Nothing is pretty about the cemetery. It’s a small oasis of green in the middle of the brown high desert hills. In the winter, dirty snow covers the mountains, and it is cold. I don’t visit unless my dad makes me. I know she is not there. It is only something biological, rotting under the dirt.

The first Mother’s Day, after she died, we put flowers on her grave. I remember that the headstone had just been put down. It’s copper with her name and my dad’s (for when it’s his turn) and there are some of my mom’s favorite flowers on them. I can’t remember the name. She tried to grow them once, but the climate in Klamath Falls is unfavorable to their propagation.

That same day, a former boyfriend’s mother took me to lunch and gave me two books, “Motherless Daughters” and “Letters from Motherless Daughters.” I read a bit of the first one. I still can’t read them. I don’t want to remind myself that on my wedding day, there will be no one on my other arm, giving me away, only my dad.

Last year, I went to the Grotto. I left some calla lilies in the actual Grotto part and cried. Then I walked around in the gardens and tried to forget that I cried in front of people.

I don’t know what to do this year. People have offered all sorts of suggestions, from going to church to revisiting the Grotto. These solutions are unsatisfying. I have found little solace in religion and am not in the mood for the Grotto.I try to think of what my mom would want me to do, but I can’t really come up with anything. I’m starting to forget what her voice sounded like, what she looked like, her laugh.

I don’t mind forgetting those things, really. At first, the only memories I had were bad dreams about her sick time. That was the image that ran through my brain for months on end. Those went away eventually.

Now I have better dreams. She comes back and I’m always terribly worried about what I’ll tell my friends. “But mom, what am I going to tell my friends? I told them all you were dead!” In the dream, I never worry for long, though.

But this is real life – she’s not coming back and I’ve finally gotten comfortable with the hole. The hole isn’t going to close or go away, but now it’s a part of my life that doesn’t chase sleep away or make me too sad to function.

Someday, I’ll have my own naughty girls and I’ll tell them about her. I’ll tell them about watching Princess Di’s wedding and our trip to San Francisco (just the two of us) and how she took me to my first head shop in Haight-Ashbury, and how she knew when I was sad or angry and how she, like no one else, understood my feelings and let me have them. It’s not a Mother’s Day gift I can give now, but one that can grow precious with waiting.