Around the end of April, I start to get a little low. I usually don’t notice it right away but it gets undeniable at the beginning of May. I start thinking about my mother a lot. This usually happens leading up to Mother’s Day, and her birthday in August. I mean all holidays are hard without her but even after almost 12 years those two are still the hardest.
My mom passed away when I was 19 years old. It’s still hard for me to talk about her death. It was so sudden. My mother and I had a contentious relationship for a while but we had grown closer than we had ever been before she passed. I think that’s why in a lot of ways her death hit me so hard. I felt like I wasted years being mad at her for things that didn’t matter. I just started getting to know her and suddenly she was taken away from me. It felt so unfair.
It was hard not to feel like that wasn’t mostly my fault at first. To be honest I still feel a little anger and guilt over it after all this time. I’ve worked on it a lot but it still hurts all the same. No one is ever ready to lose their mother. She’s one of the few people in the world who knows you so intimately and loves you unconditionally. Losing her so early in life was devastating. I often wish I had the chance to say how much I appreciated her.
I started writing this on a sunny Sunday morning. I find myself thinking about her early in the morning sometimes when I can’t sleep. We just wanted sleep in on Sunday mornings growing up and she would always wake us up early for church. I couldn’t stand it then but now I miss waking up to needle pops and Vanessa Bell Armstrong on the stereo. Some days I still hear Brighter Day in my head when I wake up. It takes me back. I remember her voice humming along and singing with bacon popping on the stove. She had a beautiful voice.
I talk about my mother as much as possible. She is part of just about everything I do and I try to keep the lessons she taught me in mind all the time. Even though she’s not here I still try to learn as much as I can about her. I revisit things she did: listen to music she liked, go places she went, read books she read, and I’ve even tried to cook things she cooked. I’m not much of a cook. I do those things because she lives on through me and they are ways to feel closer to her. I think it’s my way of continuing to nurture the relationship we started to rebuild.
My mom wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with sometimes. She was quick-tempered, headstrong and sensitive; a real straight shooter too. She would tell you exactly what she thought at any time, whether you wanted to hear it or not. I say all the time she was the realest person I’ve ever known. My mother was blunt and opinionated but she was also caring and generous. She was smart and tenacious. I wish I was as strong as she was sometimes.
The older I get the more I understand her and things she tried to teach me. A little while before she got sick I went over to her apartment. When I got there, she was in a mood. She was really emotional for some reason. She kept talking about how I was dressed and how tall I had gotten. How much she hated that I wore earrings now. Then she started crying, which was common for her because she was really sensitive. I started to think “here we go.”
So, she went in her living room and got this picture that I hated. It was a picture of her, my older sister and me. I have on this terrible sweater and Payless gym shoes. I couldn’t stand it. She said, “You’re not my little boy anymore. This is my Philip, with the dirty jeans and gym shoes. That’s my little man.” Of course, I was glad to have outgrown that. I was in college and I had my own place. I was trying to be grown, as they say, and I wanted her to see me as an adult. We hugged but I was so annoyed she was being so sentimental that I turned down her invite to stay for dinner. She made me take a plate home anyway.
The day after she passed, I went to her apartment and sat in her living room alone. I picked up that picture and held it close. I took it home with me when I left and I’ve put it up proudly in every apartment I’ve stayed in since. No matter where I go or how old I get I will always be your little boy. I love you, mom.