What hit me most over the last 10 months is the non-traditional time with mom I won’t get to do again.
Last night my husband walked in the bedroom to find me giving double middle fingers to the TV featuring a Hallmark commercial. It’s my first Mother’s Day since my mom died in July and it’s inescapable. I know “all the firsts will be tough” and I have more friends and family members who can relate to how I’m feeling, which also makes me sad, but “celebrating” Mother’s Day was never as much of a thing as the cards. The self-deprecating, shade-throwing greeting cards she had come to expect and a nice heartfelt one every once in a while when she least expected it.
Of course holidays are difficult and it’s probably not healthy that I become filled with rage when I get an inbox full of emails reminding me that Mother’s Day is coming and maybe she’d like a bikini wax? Really? Is that a thing? I guess I shouldn’t judge because what hit me most over the last 10 months is the non-traditional time with mom I won’t get to do again.
My mom and I used to go to the gynecologist together. We both dreaded our annual exam each year, and made my dad go with us because parking was even more challenging in this particular Brooklyn neighborhood. The discussions started days before with what treat meal we were going to have “post-pap” as a reward for doing what we were supposed to do as smart women with health insurance.
At some point my mom discovered “the glitter joke,” and so even after we stopped going together, we would call and remind each other, “Don’t forget the glitter.” After the appointment I would text or call and we would celebrate the best time of year: the longest time before we would have to do it again. And then we’d discuss what we would have for our treat meal.
All of this for a doctor’s appointment that usually lasted less than 15 minutes. Neither of us had any scary follow-up calls about test results or rechecking, which is why we were all the more shocked when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and more specifically fallopian tube cancer, which is difficult to diagnose, but my mom had abdominal pain, and before we knew it, she was having a complete hysterectomy and a lot of chemo. She did get a kick out of the I heart guts uterus I got her, which she said also worked well as a cramp pillow during recovery.
Recently, I went to my annual appointment knowing I had to go and fulfill my womanly duties and get my annual prescription of birth control pills. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the gown staring at the stirrups that I realized, I didn’t have a text reminding me to apply my glitter and I wasn’t going to get to call and “celebrate” with her. By the time the gynecologist came into the office my gown was soaked with tears and I had no choice but to explain in my babbling, sobbing, shaky voice. My doctor said, “I’m so sorry, MY MOM DIED LAST WEEK.” My heart sank, here she was trying to work and get through the day, trying not to think about her loss and grief (as if there’s any real way to avoid it) and there I was reminding her that it happened and months from now when she least expected it, she could find herself experiencing it all over again.
It was only after I left the office and walked toward the subway on the Upper East Side that I started to laugh, thinking about how funny my mom would have found the whole situation. Literally naked and exposed I talked about my mom and the glitter joke while the doctor conducted my breast exam and how focused I was on trying to make my doctor feel better because I knew how terrible she was feeling. I get my sense of humor from my mom so I’m pretty certain if I was laughing she would be too. I also think she would want me, a childfree woman, to continue flipping off everything about Mother’s Day and celebrating her with a “treat meal.”
Now go call your mom, even if it’s to remind her that she’s the reason your therapist has a new summer house, because that’s what I would like to do most.
Emily Cohen is a proud New Yorker, who recently moved to Boston with her husband and two cats. She is a research librarian for Catalyst and advocate for inclusion and flexibility for all.