Monday, January 3, 2011

Holding Hands 16 Years On

A few weeks ago, I embraced an anniversary. It was 16 years since my mother died of pancreatic cancer. We buried her the day before Christmas eve.

For many years, the holiday season was filled with weeks of sadness and ambivalence. I'd see happy shoppers, but shopping made me anything but happy. All I could think of were those last few days of her life, filled with pain and misery, and how in a matter of months she shifted from a relatively vibrant woman to someone, at the nadir of her dying hours, looked like she was 90 years old.

Of course, time changes one’s perspective. I no longer care to remember those last few hours of her life but rather gestures and conversations that made me feel connected to my mother.

There is no question that the happiest moments of my childhood are the ones I experienced around when I was 5 or 6 years old -- long before the turmoil, boredom, and depression hit my mother.

My son is now 6 -- the time, in my childhood, when my mother would hold my hand to safely cross the street, wrap her coat around me to keep me warm and occasionally buy me a nickel candy bar just because she knew it would make me happy. She would pick a fresh green pepper from her small vegetable garden because she knew how much I adored them. She would bring me a banana or orange cut in quarters, all because she loved me.

I now do all those things that my mother taught me.  As a motherless mother, I really don’t have a clear map to help me navigate motherhood. I have very little history to go by other than my memory, or perhaps the history of my mother told by my siblings. But as the youngest of four children, I experienced my mother differently. She was a very different mother to each of us, and to me particularly.

This past holiday season, I remembered my mother’s loving gestures not only because of her death but because I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with my son. He’s been home from school. I’m not working so our days were filled with just the two of us, playing endless games of indoor basketball, running errands, having lunch and learning about what’s really happening at school.

This short break also allowed me to show him small but meaningful gestures of love: the subtle hand-holding as we crossed the street, wrapping my coat around him because he’s cold, and yes, buying him the occasionally candy bar because I can. And as it was 40-plus years ago, this time spent with my son has been one of the happiest of my life, and certainly a highlight of my role as a mother.

I’m not sure my son will look back and say that these are “the days to remember.” That’s ok. I certainly hope there will be other significant memories. But as I remember my mother’s death, I also am reminded of the hope and wonder a new life can bring. My son will never know his grandmother. But at least he can experience her warmth, intelligence, and brilliance with every loving gesture.


  1. Karen.......what a beautiful story.......I can so identify.....even though my mother died 3 yrs ago and she was 94 years old. She died of old age.......not of a horrid ilnes like yours, yet I miss her terribly.......
    I too did things with my son when he was little as my mother did with me.....he was fortunate to have known his grandmother whom he dearly loved.........

  2. I'm at 9 years now, it's a very difficult thing to loose our mothers. I lost mine to cervical cancer. Thank you for such a personal post and my heart goes out to you.

  3. Karen - I have no doubt that your son WILL remember those things. How lucky he is to have a mom that "gets" it and shares her love with him everyday. Your post is a strong reminder to each of us to cherish what is really important in life - our relationships.


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