The Sweetest Gift

Mom with Bailey

She gave me love as well as life; so whatever goodness I may bring to Earth began with the gift of my mother’s heart…

At some point in our relationship, my mom transitioned from being my parent to also being a great friend. I’d say it happened in 1985, when she was diagnosed with incurable, inoperable  lung cancer.

Something changes in a relationship when the realization hits that we don’t actually live forever. At age 55, my mom was told she had 6 months to live. That revelation could have driven us apart through fear of death and premature grief; fortunately, it brought us even closer. So each day with Mom became a gift.

Let me just say, I won the lottery in the mother department. Our little family (parents, older brother and sister) were the stereotypical suburban family of the 60s.

Mom worked full-time, rare for married women back then, but we all came together for dinner each night and shared our day over her tasty meals. In fact, I didn’t sample a TV Dinner until I was a teenager. What a treat – Salisbury steak from an aluminum tray. How awesome was that?

Everyone always commented on how much I resembled my mom. I don’t know why that would be such a surprise. Still, Mom replied by saying to me, “You poor thing,” as if looking like her was bad. Believe me, I could have done much worse. I think she was beautiful in every way.My mother was Portuguese, with an olive complexion, dark hair and eyes. As she aged, her hair received some assistance in staying brown, but her skin was always disturbingly smooth. She had fewer wrinkles than me, 25 years her junior. Definitely not fair.

It’s true that Loretta Rose was adored by all. Here’s an example of her uniqueness: Mom became best friends with my dad’s first wife, Beverly, who is mother to my brother, Bill. Got all that? Over the years we vacationed together as a family – even shared holidays with Beverly and her husband Riley. How often does something like that happen?

Mom and Beverly

Mom and Beverly

When Mom became ill, she and I often had meals together. We were on borrowed time and we made good use of it. Mom was fun and laughed easily – always game for anything. Even when cancer and heart failure beckoned, her energy level was surprisingly high; she still often gathered with her longtime gal-pals.

Typical photo of Mom (on right) cracking up

Now don’t get me wrong; Mom had her quirks, like all of us. She was meticulously neat but had trouble letting go of things. She made a pack rat look wasteful.

Once, before Mom got new carpet, we cleaned out drawers and closets in preparation. It was like a trip down memory lane. We found my report cards under the linens in the hall closet. Letters Dad had written her in the early 50s were tucked away in the den behind issues of Bon Appetit. She always intended to try a recipe. (Never happened.)

You know those greeting cards that organizations send after you make a donation? Mom had dozens of them piled in the desk under the telephone. In the kitchen drawer, she had bags filled with dozens of corks. When I asked her what she planned to do with them, she answered in all sincerity, “What if I need a cork someday?”

Mom saved the rubber bands she collected from years of newspapers. She kept her size 10 clothing even when cancer made her size 6. “Just in case.”

I remember holding up an item and saying, “Mom, do you really need instructions on how to operate the Electrolux vacuum you haven’t owned in years?” She sighed and answered, “I guess not, but what if I get another one someday and the manual is missing?” She was a gem.When Dad entered a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, Mom visited almost daily. She became surrogate mother to the Filipino aides whose moms were absent. They sat and talked with her about their troubles and joys because they knew she genuinely cared.

In a word, Mom was thoughtful. Her calendar overflowed with Post-it notes of birthdays and anniversaries; she found it impossible to leave Costco without swinging by to share something with me; she knew all my favorite See’s candies, often giving them to me for no special reason.

The bottom line is, I was adored. And what could be better than that? As a kid, I thought it was a prerequisite for parents. But now I know I was one of the lucky ones with both of mine.

Fighting cancer aged Mom but she never let it break her spirit. And guess what? She lived almost 20 years after her terminal diagnosis – one of only 5% to beat that cancer. And if you knew her, you weren’t surprised by that.

One of our last photos together

As it turned out, cancer caused us to spend more time together than we might have before believing her days were numbered. So in the end, Loretta Rose was more than simply my parent, but also a treasured friend.

Vocalist, Sade, has a song she unknowingly wrote about my mom. One line says, You bring your light and shine like morning. Boy, wasn’t that the truth. The song is called, The Sweetest Gift.

And to me, that’s exactly what my mom was.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you; and when I do, your smile moves through my mind – eager, bright and kind; in memories so warm and clear; and how I wish that you were here…


20 thoughts on “The Sweetest Gift

  1. Thanks, Janet- had a good cry over my mom, who I lost 17 years ago. Like Loretta, Eleanor is in my daily thoughts. Thanks for such a touching tribute on Mother’s Day!
    Xo, Paula

    • Paula, tried to reply earlier but my computer is acting up so this may appear twice. I wanted to say I know what you mean because no matter how much time passes, it still feels new and I miss her as much as I did 9 years ago. Hope you had a good day today…

  2. Thanks Janet for this beautiful remembranace. I lost my mom to lung cancer also, 6 years a go and when I think of her I hear her beautiful and clear voice and her laugh. I miss her so much.

    • Susan, I had no idea your mom had lung cancer also. I’m so sorry to hear that. We’ll have to exchange mom stories after tennis one of these days…

  3. Janet~~just beautifully written. I love looking at you and your Mom together. She was a very special lady and your relationship was to be envied, in a good way. I have great memories of our Mother’s Day brunches together at 10 Washington!
    By the way , you are the best God Mother, so happy Mother’s Day to
    you too.

    Love you Janet!

    • Good old 10 Washington Avenue. We had some good times there with our families, didn’t we? BTW, Martin called to wish me Happy Mother’s Day today. Such a sweetie…

  4. Hello from Rome. I was looking forward to what you might write today! Turned out to be quite special and Janet…you and I will have to chat. We have lots in common in the “Mom Dept.!” So nice to see Paula Sauve commenting. I miss seeing you Paula. xxLaura

    • Laura, I look forward to talking with you when you return. Were you at the Nadal match for the final or is that being played elsewhere?

  5. This brought tears to my eyes….you and your Mom were so special–separately, but even more so together. She taught you well and that’s why my kids think of you as a second mother!
    ❤ Happy Mother's Day ❤

  6. Janet–really beautiful tribute to your mom. Loved the photos. Like mom, like daughter, you are beautiful inside and out as well.

  7. Janet, you are amazing, just like your mom. She was a great lady and I am thankful to have known her. She is up their with your dad and her buddies just smiling down at your amazingness. I don’t think that is a word but it fits you. Have a great week!

  8. Janet, I can still remember what your mom’s voice sounds like. It’s as clear as if she is talking right now. She was always so gracious and kind. Beautiful tribute to her. You resemble her in so many ways.

    • Thanks Mandy. I know Mom always thought you were so sweet (but she didn’t know you that well…..just kidding!) I’m glad you think I resemble her.

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