Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday. I didn’t spend the whole day thinking about this, but it was in the back of my mind, surfacing periodically — at work, in traffic, as I walked through my garden.
Dead nearly 13 years, she’s always just barely off-stage, ready to walk on at the slightest queue. Opening day at Comiskey Park? I’ll call Mom to let her know if I’m going. Crocuses came up early? Mom would be thrilled. White butterfly just flew by? Maybe it was Mom.
My son will graduate from college this year, and I think of how proud my Mom was when I did the same. She would be thrilled to see her grandson walk across a stage to receive a diploma, ready to enter a new phase of growth and living. I think of how she loved to play and chat with him when he was a toddler, how she thrilled to hear him practice the speech that won him a prize in a speech contest just weeks after she died.
I wish she could be here to watch me make Christmas cookies and to tell me why my cracker balls never come out the way hers did. I’d love to see her pet and enjoy my two dogs, this woman who gave my my lifelong love of dogs, welcoming one after another into her life, nursing one — my first, a Dalmatian named Lucky — back from a near-fatal fight with wild dogs.
Tomorrow would have been my father-in-law’s birthday, as well, so it’s a particularly bittersweet weekend in my house. Dad — my own dad died when I was a kid, so it was natural for me to call this welcoming, gentle, engaging man by that name — died the same year as my mother. (It was a tough year.) I miss him, too, as much as I do my mother, although of course differently.
I’m not melancholy today, just a bit immersed in memory. I’ll spend the evening with family, toasting both the dead and the living, looking both ahead to good times and back toward others. I have friends who are more acutely missing loved ones today, friends who have just lost parents, and my heart aches for them. My sadness isn’t acute, as I know theirs is. Mine is softened by time, happy memories pushing out the more difficult ones.
So a toast to Mom, and to the loved ones we’ve all lost. Winter will turn to spring; memory can replace heartache. At least most of the time.