It starts with the smallest trigger. I'm driving to the GO station, listening to people phone in to a Christmas contest on the radio to win a trip to a Muskoka resort. The woman on the line wants to give the trip to her mother who, a year ago, had serious health issues and wasn't expected to recover. She did and is stable now, so the woman wants to do something nice for her and thank her for taking care of her grandson. "She's done so much for me," the woman sobs, and you can hear the love and gratitude in her voice.
And suddenly, I'm sitting the GO parking lot, and I'm crying, too. Because where is my mother to take care of my kids? And why isn't she hosting Christmas, as she always used to do? And why can't I give her something to thank her for all she's done for me? Yet even as I'm crying, I'm remembering my Mom's advice for holding back tears: "Look up!"
I don't know if it's just that I'm more reflective at this time of year, remembering this period as the beginning of the end of her life, or if there's something more to it. But everywhere I look these days, I see signs of her.
I pick up a book from the bookshelf and realize it's one of hers. I pull out a gift bag to wrap a Christmas present and, with a jolt, see that the tag on it is in her handwriting. I go to write this blog, and a calendar reminder comes up on my computer: Mom's birthday is today.
These moments, those touches—so brief, so fleeting. I dread them because they often bring dark thoughts and tears at a time of year that's supposed to focus on joy and celebration. But I welcome them, too, because they're all I have left of her.
I don't believe in heaven—though I wish I did—so I can't believe she's looking down on me and the family I've built with my husband and my girls. Still, I'm grateful for what remains: the sweater that, to this day, smells of detergent and tobacco; the scraps of paper I kept with her handwriting. The small but undeniable signs that she was here, that she left an impression on the world. That she loved me. I'll keep searching for those signs of her presence.
And look up.