On so many Mother’s Days, I gave my mother dainty earrings in little boxes wrapped in pretty paper. I would choose those earrings with care to match her green eyes.
And every year, she said she loved them, even as she painstakingly peeled back the paper so that it could be salvaged. My late mother was a practical woman.
There also were gifts of scarves, bracelets and the “White Diamonds” scent she loved.
But as this sixth Mother’s Day without my mother approaches, I’m haunted by the gifts I didn’t/couldn’t give. The more abstract ones.
The first, strange as it sounds, would have been a more considerate world.
The one she’d once known had vanished, and that absence had left my sweet mother in a culture where so much civility and grace were gone. I would glimpse my mother’s bafflement at the vulgarity and the ugliness that pass for modern civilization, and my heart would lurch.
Mom used to joke that there were no movies left for “prudes” like her. I loved that she had retained her lifelong status as a lady. It was one of her most endearing qualities.
If I could have, I would have delivered a Mother’s Day gift of a whole succession of glorious family days to this woman who proved her mettle through children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was at her best with the very young. My sweetest memories are of Mom leaning down to hug a great-grandchild, kiss a chocolately face, rock a crying baby to comforted sleep.
I know what those days meant to her in her last years, the ones when I could read the look on her face as she tried to “freeze” time with this brand new generation she adored — savored the moments, because she knew, better than we did, how fleeting they are.
I wish I could have seen to it that Mom had more time with her beloved granddaughters, each of them endlessly fascinating to her. She was insatiable when it came to news about them, and we could never, ever cure her of her shameless bragging.
How I would love to have given her the joy of a perfect sunrise in a faraway place, a piece of music so beautiful that it would make her cry, a walk on a beach and a dip in the ocean she used to love so much.
I would surely have given Mom the blessing of perfect health, and a body that didn’t betray her. I would have chased away the arthritis that settled in like an unwelcome houseguest and made her fingers and back feel like alien strangers.
I would have banished forever the lymphoma that ultimately took her from us.
I would have given my mother more people in her life, particularly in those last years. Too many friends were gone, and many were too frail to do the things they once did together.
I remember the day Mom told me, with an attempt at nonchalance, that she had become too unsure of her footing to take long walks in her beloved Philadelphia, the city where she’d lived for all of her years.
What she didn’t say was that she also was afraid, now, of the streets that had become so mean.
How I wish I could have spared my mother the feeling of captivity in her high-rise apartment building where she had surely memorized every detail of wallpaper pattern and weave of carpet. I would have taken away those days that were empty, and nights that were long.
I would have visited her more, taken her to more doctors’ appointments, more shows, more gardens, more parks.
I would have hugged her more.
I would have told her often how important she was in my life, and how a part of me will always be missing without her.
Perhaps there never really was any way, ever, to thank my mother for loving me like no one else ever has.
But I can still hope that somehow, she knew it. ••
Reach Life columnist Sally Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org