My mom died four years ago today.

I approach this day the same way every year. Grief rolls in like a predictable, incoming tide, beginning on Halloween.

I see my then three-and-a-half-year-old son in his authentic, Disney blessed Captain Hook costume, barreling towards my mom screaming, “Aye, matey!” in his best pirate voice, trick-or-treat pumpkin in hand. I recall how he paused before embracing her skeletal frame, engulfed in wires, attached to an IV.  I delight in how he made her beam, how he gave her hope, how he helped her fight until the bitter end.

I cringe when I think of her unwrapping hard candies, the only thing her digestive system strangled by ovarian cancer could handle. I hear her saying “I love you” in a more urgent, somber way, with an intense look in her eyes that’s seared into my soul. I trace her gaunt face in my mind, still flawlessly, hauntingly beautiful.

The wave of grief, sculpted by years of tears, begins to swell.

I replay her last week alive, over and over, with the frequency of Christmas music that now saturates the airwaves on November 1. By the time the actual day comes, I have relived every decision, every move, every look, every sentence, every noise, every excruciating moment I have etched in the forefront of my brain. These memories never move to the back. They are always there, daring me to take a dip back in time.

  1. I dig through my jewelry box and slip her ring on my right hand. It doesn’t quite fit my finger, but I would never resize it. I don’t clean it, either.
  2. I wonder if a medium could connect with her if I brought that ring to a reading. It still has her DNA on it, right?
  3. I research mediums. I look at dates, ticket prices. I consider who would go with me, or if I should go alone. I don’t book anything.
  4. I check the calculator to see how many days I have managed to survive without her. It’s 1,461 days.
  5. I laugh about how helpless I am at math. She was, too. I see her little notebooks in my mind, ones where she would add bills, taking care to “carry the one” in each equation. I would plead with her to take the easy way out with a calculator, but she did it on her own.
  6. I smile because I am now married to a math wiz who shares the same birthday as my mom. Of course she sent him to double-check my questionable equations, to save me from the horror of being stumped by second grade math.
  7. I cling to my son a little tighter. Smother may be a little more like it.
  8. I sift through old photographs. A certain picture always creeps into my psyche during this process, and I kill myself trying to find it. This year, it was her in her homemade witch costume–green, wart riddled face, full length black cape, extra tall hat with a crooked tip, spooky broom with cobwebs–that she wore to scare kids at her haunted house on Halloween.
  9. I get angry because the photo I want always seems to elude me. It never fails.
  10. I vow to organize the time capsule that was my mom’s life, our life together. I never do it. It’s too painful.
  11. I tackle another project in the house instead. This year, it was our cupboard. I was up until 3:00 a.m. one night cleaning it out. She was always prepared to feed a small army with the contents of her cupboard. Like mother, like daughter.
  12. I do something in the spirit of her. This year, I surprised my family by dressing up like an 80s version of Madonna on Halloween. I also adopted a dog who was rescued from a dumpster in Tennessee. She loved anything with four legs and a tail, and would work tirelessly to find them homes.
  13. I daydream about how we used to start planning Thanksgiving around this time.
  14. I watch the Food Network in her honor. Ina Garten was her favorite. She liked the Queen of Butter, Paula Deen, before she was dethroned, too.
  15. I can’t remember if she was alive during Paula Deen’s racial slur scandal so I Google it. It was six months before her death. My mom’s disgust at Paula Deen’s despicable words come back to me, and I am strangely pacified. I remembered something I forgot. I got a sliver of her back. This happens every year; I wonder if she was present for [insert news story here] and I Google accordingly.
  16. I make one of her signature dishes. Last year, it was her fussy raisin bars with her lump-free Confectioner’s sugar glaze. I came close, but they weren’t quite as good. This year, I will make her eggplant parmesan. Fingers crossed.
  17. I reach out to her friends hoping I will hear a story about her I do not know, to add something to my vault.
  18. I cry while I am writing, or in the shower, or in the car. It’s a primal cry, for her. I do it alone. No one can possibly mourn my mom like I do. No one.
  19. I listen to her favorite songs, the ones I played for her as she lay dying in the Intensive Care Unit. I wonder if she plays them for me when I hear them on the radio.
  20. I will myself to visit her grave. I do not find solace there, or anywhere. I still go.
  21. I assess where I am in life.
  22. I criticize myself. Why haven’t I fulfilled her every wish yet?
  23. I vow to be a better mom, knowing I do not measure up to her greatness. I never will, but I keep trying.
  24. I wonder if she sees me, if she hears me, if she knows me anymore.
  25. I tell myself that she does. She knows. She’s here. She has to be. How could I make it any other way?

Every single year. It’s always the same.

I expect this monstrous wave of grief to crest–and crash. I know it’s coming. I have grappled with it many times before. Still, it always manages to knock me on my ass.

I miss you, Mom.

I will love you forever.