It’s been ten years. I don’t know why this year is so tough. All year, too, not just today. It seems like it shouldn’t hurt this much anymore. Maybe because the world feels out of control. Maybe because my kids are people I wish she knew. Maybe because my own little house is running quite well for the first time, maybe ever, and I just wish she could see it-be proud of me, know that I “did good”.
My mom’s been gone a long time. She’s missed the lives of nearly all of my children. They don’t know her at all, save for the stories I share with them about her. Like, the one about how she moved all the way across the country when she was 18 without knowing a soul. She took one job that lead to even cooler jobs and never really told anyone about them once she got married and became a mom. Or maybe the one about keeping her dates with other guys after she was engaged because “dad was studying for the bar and never around, so what else would she do with her time?” That’s a good one.
I often share with my girl how I learned my makeup skills from sitting on my mom’s bathroom floor in the mornings watching her apply each new layer as she got ready for her “city job” when I was little.
Sometimes I tell the story of her living with me for a week after The Girl was born and opening up to me about motherhood, and being a widow and fighting cancer, and how in that one week I learned more about her, and how to handle life than I had in 29 years as her kid. That’s a good one too.
But perhaps the stories I need to spend more time on are ones she never would have shared herself. Because if she did, that would have meant she was admitting how great she was, and that is not nearly humble enough for her.
My mom’s main story, her legacy even, is one of an open door. Our house was a refuge for anyone and anything that needed mending. A literal cast of characters filled my childhood home because all were welcome and all wanted to come.
Broken hearts? Check. Injustice? Handled. Fear and self doubt? Visit Toni’s House. It didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like, or where you came from, you were welcome, no, it was bigger than that, you were wanted, in her living room. The only rule was that you made yourself at home because, unless it was Thanksgiving, mom didn’t cook for or serve anyone.
What she did was listen, without judgement, and often without advice. She just listened to our stories until we worked out what to do on our own. My brother once called her Yoda with a Vodka Tonic. Her wisdom was priceless and only shared sparingly. What she offered most was a safe space, acceptance and an open heart to help anyone bear their burden. No matter how full hers may have been with her own, she always had room to let yours in too.
My mother, by sheer example, taught me to love. The kind of love that matters because it makes the other person love themselves. Not love like you have for your iPhone, but the love talked about in churches and synagogues and mosques and non-religious spiritual houses around the world. The kind of love that is deep and meaningful because you are fellow human beings and deserve it for that reason alone. The world could use a little more of that kind of love today. Maybe that’s why I miss her so.
Everyone just wants someone to hear their story. My mom did her best to hear them all.
Today, I want you to hear hers.