Joanie’s Birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I always have a moment at some point in the day where it hits me full on.  It’s like that little memory nugget lies dormant and then bursts forth into my brain when I least expect it and my heart doubles its pace for a moment or two as I think of all that she was and could have been if she had beaten cancer.

She would have been 74, and I like to imagine her having this feisty, positive, “I don’t give a damn” attitude at this age. She would wear long peasant skirts and a cute little pixie cut. She would let her hair go fully gray because who’s she trying to impress?  She would call me and be funny and sarcastic and loving. She would cry with happiness every time she saw the girls on FaceTime.  And then tease them. She would drag my dad (who would also still be around and kicking) through the airport regularly to visit us so she could play with her grandkids.  She and I would hug 1,000 times a day because we both would know how close we came to never being able to hug again.

Once a year I allow myself this moment to fantasize of what could have been, if the Fates would have sent us all in a different direction. It’s not a pity party so much as a daydream that enfolds me in the warm light of longing.  Because I have lost her, I get to create her in my mind any way I choose.  I can imagine her perfect, blissful, fully lived life. In reality, if she had lived, we would have had petty arguments and I would have been annoyed by her little idiosyncrasies and she would have suffered through the pain of aging and watching her husband and loved ones age and then die.  I don’t have to experience any of that. I can bask in my little fantasy instead.

My three-year old had a tantrum yesterday because I wouldn’t let her watch TV or some nonsense, and she screamed, “You will DIE!” (I blame Disney’s Sleeping Beauty because she’s obsessed and that’s the only place she’s heard such language. Thanks, Maleficent. )

After she calmed down I asked her if she understood what that meant.  When she shook her head no, I said, “dying means that I would go away and never be able to come back.”  She grabbed me and wailed, “Mommy, I don’t want you to go away!”

I felt false telling my daughter that definition because I don’t believe it myself.  I feel like my mom visits me often, in my dreams and my thoughts, and continues to pass on wisdom and love to me. I don’t mean that I’m a medium or that the ghost of my mother flies into my bedroom at night.  I just hear her voice inside my head. She’s the voice of gentle reason, of strong femininity, of “don’t let anyone tell you ‘no,'” that helps guide me toward a fulfilling, happy life.  So, no, I don’t think she’s gone away never to return. In fact, she’s with me all the time, in her peasant skirt and gray pixie cut, with her mischievous blue eyes and secret smile, loving me and my girls like nobody else could.


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