On my 32nd birthday, my mom gave me a gift. Inside the front cover of this book she inscribed a very sweet handwritten message, something she had done countless times before in other books. This is what she wrote (funny that I can still hear her voice in my head, clear as a bell):
Happy 32nd Birthday, Tara!
Enjoy these stories.They bring back memories of you growing up, you as a mom, and of my mom. I’m so thankful that we are close to each other and share so much of our lives with each other. I hope we will make many more wonderful memories.
I love you!
We made another year-and-a-half’s worth of incredible memories before I lost her. I am endlessly grateful to have been able to add those experiences to the others that live in my heart.
The best part of this particular birthday gift, however, only became clear after she had died. The two of us had cracked up in helpless giggles (we did this often…see the photo below for proof) when I leafed excitedly through my new book only to find many pages where sentences or even full paragraphs had been highlighted in bright yellow. I remember making some sarcastic comment like, “Hey, thanks for the used book. So generous, Mom.” Once we got over ourselves and dried our tears of laughter, she explained that she had highlighted passages in the book that meant something to her. Ones that made her heart squeeze or fill or thump. I loved that she had done this. It was exactly the kind of thing she always did. That was the magic of my incredible, joy-filled, thoughtful mom. Ask anyone who knew her.
It wasn’t until after she was gone, though, that I realized the significance of this gift. Losing her devastated me. I felt numb, lost, angry, desperate, shrunken. One day several months into this new life, I picked up the book. I really read the highlighted parts this time. And it became clear to me that even though my beautiful momma wasn’t in this world with me anymore, she was still offering what she could. She had left me with a guide for how to survive this nightmare. How she had done it when she lost her own mom. How to mother my children without her guidance. How to open myself to the world again and know that I would be ok, because she had raised me to be her daughter. How to choose life and love.
I am forever grateful to you, Mom. I miss you beyond all that I know. Thank you for holding my hand through the darkness. I hope I’m making you proud.
And happy birthday.
xxoo Tara Jo
A few of the passages she chose:
“My mother is physically gone, but she still sustains me. A glance at an old photograph, the sight of her handwriting on a recipe card or the remembrance of a moment long ago can evoke a memory so powerful and vivid, I swear sometimes I can hear her calling my name.”
“It seems so strange that someone who was such a part of my day-to-day life is just not here anymore. She hasn’t been here for a long time, so I should be used to it. But every once in a while, I actually think I see her on the street, on the train, at the grocery. At first, it’s not apparent to me who I think it is. I just think, I haven’t see her in a long time. Occasionally, I think I should call her up and tell her something or just find out what she’s been up to. Then I remember.”
“The truth is that when one woman gives birth to another, to someone who is like her, they are linked together for life in a very special way.”
“You can’t love too much.”
“I was so thrilled to have a baby girl-it was a dream come true! Through the years, you continue to be a delight to me-so sweet and thoughtful, and smart and talented. I am so grateful for our friendship, and I admire your courage and adventurous spirit. You are a warm and beautiful woman, and you are my best friend. I love you, xxoo Mom.”
“I see that becoming a mother has not only given me the gift of loving a child with an intensity that I never knew existed, but also the gift of my own mother-and the sudden realization that I am, and have been all my life, loved the same way.”