There’s a scene in the final season of How I Met Your Mother that, in recent months, has held a little more meaning for me. Forgive me this moment of weakness, but I need to get this out.
The mother looks to Ted and says something along the lines of: “What kind of mother isn’t there for her daughter’s wedding day?” Ted cries because, as we all came to find out, the mother died – hence the nine year story of how Ted met her.
But that line – those tears that were shed by both the mother and Ted in that tender moment – it’s been playing on repeat in my mind. Not because of how I’ll feel without my mom at my wedding (whenever that may be) but because I wonder how she felt.
My mom left me a journal – just a few pages filled with her thoughts during the last two months of her life. I’ve read every bit of it, hoping to find some secret message she may have left for me. There are no secret messages, no whispers from beyond the grave; but throughout her writings she repeats the same thing: that she loved me, that she wished she could have stayed, and that she was so, so sorry for leaving.
My acceptance of my mother’s death did not come quickly. I spent the first six and a half years hating everyone and everything. I hated the doctors for not catching her cancer in time. I hated myself for not spending enough time with her. I hated God for taking her from me.
But as the hate started to fade, and as my sad memories were replaced with happier ones – like the year she made coleslaw with just carrots – I found myself considering more what she went through during that time.
I started remembering things, like how at peace she was when the doctor told her, simply, that she would be lucky if she lived another two months (just to spite him, I think, she lived another three and a half months). I remembered the day she said she was leaving us on April 15, because she was bound and determined to screw up tax day at the accounting firm where we worked (true to her word, she flashed us a beautiful smile and took her last breath on this earth at 8 PM on April 15, 2007). I remembered the day she curled up next to me and said she’d always be with me, even if I couldn’t see her (and even now, as I sit here writing this, I can feel her fingernails run through my hair, comforting me and telling me she’s here, she’s always been here).
But that line from the show… the first time I heard it, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Some mothers choose not to be there for their daughters’ weddings. Distance and time and any number of other things harden their hearts. Pride gets in the way. They don’t go. They miss out. I pity both the mothers and the daughters – and, if you happen to be either one of them, I implore you to reach out, say something. Make sure they know you’re there. I do not know your story, and would never presume to do so, but please consider it. I would give anything to see mama in front of me again, to sing in the car with her as we drive down to Herndon, Virginia, or Washington, DC, or Virginia Beach. The bond between a mother and daughter is a precious and fragile one, and I know that things happen. But girls, don’t shut out your mama. She’s doing her best, even if her best isn’t something you may agree with.
In recent months, though, I’ve just wondered how my mom dealt with it – with the fact that she wouldn’t be here for my wedding. I wonder how she reasoned with herself – if she reasoned with herself. I wonder if she knew, even then, that I would be okay, even if it did take a year or two or ten. I wonder if she struggled with it. I hope she didn’t. I recall the struggles she had with the cancer alone, and worrying herself with silly things like that wouldn’t have been worth it. I suppose it’s too late at this point; but if there’s a parallel universe where my mom is alive and well and reading this while she sips on an umbrella drink in her lounge chair overlooking the Pacific Ocean (I do not believe so, but I suppose anything is possible), I just hope she knows that I won’t suffer when that day comes. I hope she knows that though my life has been full, in spite of her absence, and that day will be sad without her, but it will be happy because even if she can’t be there in body, she’ll be there in spirit.
I’ve tried not to focus on Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year, if only because last year I went all out for it. I’ve tried not to write about her, if only because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the writing process, it’s that you pour your heart and soul into it. You take everything and put it into this one thing – a book, a blog post, a magazine article – and you put it out there for all the world to see. And at the end of it all, you’re an empty shell. But you’re still fulfilled – or maybe it’s just me, because in my case, I am able to empty myself of my hurt and my tears and my memories and show it to the world. One thing I have tried to do is share more of my mom with the world.
Including all of my favorite stories of her. And, I suppose, that’s how I’ll close this out. I realize the point of this was to talk about that specific episode of a TV show that’s been off the air for quite some time now, but still… I couldn’t imagine letting this month go by without sharing something about mama. I wouldn’t be doing her justice.
Most (if not all) of you know that my mother and father (and my father and I) did not have the greatest relationship. I never pried, if only because I was witness to many of their arguments, and my father and I have had our fair share of disagreements as well. Well, the weekend of my 17th birthday, he decided to come down. He knew we were planning a trip to DC and wanted to tag along.
My parents took me to McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner. It was fabulous. I ate so many oysters on the half shell I was bursting at the seams. I laughed with my mom when she did her funny accents, and made an attempt with my father when he asked questions. When they brought the dessert tray around, I picked the crème brûlée. My mom asked if they could put a candle in it for my birthday.
The staff brought it out with a candle in it, and I was so excited to try it. I blew out my candles, picked up my spoon, and… delicately dug in. I was so scared of breaking the crust. I didn’t want to mess it up! Looking back, it was a pretty sad move on my part. Everyone knows you just dig in to crème brûlée when you get it. You tear it apart. I didn’t want to do that, though, and instead took small spoonfuls.
And my mother was not having any of it. I knew my father’s presence had taken its toll on her for the day. I knew she was stressed, not in the mood to be nice (though was she ever Miss Manners that weekend) and just wanted the night to be over with. She reprimanded me (gently) twice: “Dig in, Ashley!” She said, followed by: “Ashley, you can tear it apart! That’s why it’s there!” And then, finally, she grabbed my bowl from me and smashed the spoon into the dessert. She broke the crust, and then, for good measure, she did it again. I watched, mouth agape, as my mom showed that crème brûlée who was boss.
Finally finished with it, she slid the bowl back over to me. “See?” She said. “That’s how you eat it.” She winked at me, let me get back to my dessert, and no one at the table said a word until it was time to leave.
It took me a few years to be able to remember that story with clarity, but looking back now, I wonder how I ever forgot it. My mom was a nice person – perhaps too nice sometimes – and yet in that moment, she let that defenseless dessert have it. The memory makes me laugh even now. I may not talk about her all the time anymore, and may watch myself with the cheesy posts this time of year, but this is one I had to get out.
My mom won’t be there for my wedding, but she’ll remain in my veins, as she’s always been. She won’t be there when I have kids, but I’ll see her in their eyes. I won’t have her around for a lot of my life events, but I’ll have her memories. I’ll have the angry crème brûlée story at the ready whenever someone wants to talk about dessert. I’ll have the crazy person/cell phone cord outside of her door story when someone wants to talk about being scared out of their minds.
She’s always with me – in my veins and in my laughter and in my tears – and I think that is the most important lesson I could have ever hoped to learn in this crazy, wild ride.
I miss you, mama. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.