It’s my third Mother’s Day without you, and I can’t say that it’s gotten any easier. If anything, it’s more difficult.
I’m starting to realize that I will never “get over” you. That I’ll never not miss you.
At one point during your funeral, I found myself surrounded by several women, all ten to twenty years older than me. They said just the right, most comforting things, Mom – and then I understood: they were all daughters who had lost their mothers. I was being inducted into a sad sorority that I didn’t know existed, but I was grateful to have.
They told me that unexpected things would trigger my grief (like the time I burst into tears while reading an article about the national debt). They told me how much growing up I would do in the months right after you were gone. They told me that a day wouldn’t go by that I wouldn’t think of you, and it would be that way for the rest of my life.
At the time, I doubted that was possible; now I know it’s true. You’ve left a hole in my heart, and it will be there when I die.
I know how odd this sounds, but I’m getting comfortable with the pain. It’s become like an old friend — it doesn’t hurt any less, but I’m no longer surprised when it shows up at my door. It’s strangely consistent, and as such, it’s strangely comforting.
Like everyone else, I continue to grow and change. Each day, I’m older and wiser than the day before, and the longer it’s been since I’ve seen you, the more I have to tell you about what I’ve learned, the more we need to “catch up.” But not only are we never going to catch up, I have a lifetime left to live without you, and we are never going to share any of it. It’s a peculiar brand of loneliness.
Motherhood still doesn’t come easily to me, Mom. I’m not half bad at it, but I’m certainly not a natural. I work at it every day.
The Boy, for his part, is a marvel. He’s curious and bright and outgoing, but headstrong and impish. He’s a heckuva negotiator. He constantly seeks laughter; it doesn’t take much to induce peals of giggling. Occasionally he’ll say, “I love you, Mom,” unbidden — trying to sound like a big boy — and it melts my heart. I know for a fact that you two would be close friends and natural allies, and that melts my heart, too.
Like me, he’s fiercely independent, and for all I put you through, I deserve the challenge of raising such a child. I wish I could ask you how to survive raising a strong-willed little person: how to not only keep from snuffing out his independent streak, but parlay it into leadership and character. And perhaps most importantly, how to not wind up on blood pressure medication in the process.
His eyes are exact replicas of mine, which I’m still not quite used to. When I bend down to explain why it’s important to tell the truth, or why he’s not allowed to play with knives, I find myself getting lost, forgetting my message, because it’s just so surreal to see my own eyes staring back at me. Moments like these shake me out of my daily haze and realize that wait: I have son, we are a family, I have passed my genes along to another generation. He is a whole person, the hero of his own story. I find this stunning.
If I really believe that I what I believe is really real, then you are with me in spirit. If it’s all true, then you and Daddy are together. Maybe you were even there with him that day, when he realized what was coming, but before he fell – those few minutes or seconds probably felt like an eternity, when he was alone and probably afraid.
If what I believe is really real, then I have a chance at seeing you again someday — if I fight the good fight, if I finish the race. If we meet in heaven, will we embrace and finally “catch up”? Or will we be so awestruck by God’s presence, so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, that we won’t have the inclination to do anything but worship? I like to think that if heaven is really paradise, then we can do both – a kind of cosmic multi-tasking, like when I sing 80s hair metal songs at the top of my lungs while safely operating a motor vehicle.
The truth is, Mom, that I have my doubts some days. Most of us do, I suppose. You were my spiritual mentor, the one I would talk to about all this, and I miss that, too. If you were here, you would tell me that I have been given all the answers, and I only need to pray and search my heart to make the fear and doubt fade quietly away. And you’d be right.
I realize now, through writing this, that you haven’t actually left a hole in my heart – I was born with it. We’re all born with holes in our hearts, designed to receive a mother’s love. And I see now how lucky I am to have had my particular heart filled by you, specifically. The hole in my heart is still full, still bursting with your love, because as my friend Joy once wrote to me, true love is truly good, and what is truly good never dies.
You are always with me; I just wish that I knew how to always feel it.
I will keep trying. I will keep learning.
I love you.
If Mom were here today, I would have made this Chocolate Caramel Slice recipe to celebrate Mother’s Day.
I think she would have liked this particular combination of sweet and salty. She would certainly have appreciated the recipe itself — how it’s easier than it looks, how pretty the final result is, how it can be made far in advance of an event.
I would have wanted to gab with her about the British-ness of it all: the Lyle’s golden syrup, the Maldon salt, the fact that it’s called a “slice.” This would have led to reminiscing about our trip to London, before she was sick. Maybe we would have vowed to return there, after she’d beaten the cancer, to sample more British desserts in the name of “research.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Chocolate Caramel Slice
Adapted Slightly from Bon Appetit Desserts, copyright 2010
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1 large egg yolk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons golden syrup (such as Lyle’s), or dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a tart pan with a removable bottom (either a 12 x 8 1/4 x 1, or an 11-inch round).
In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water and the egg yolk, then blend until moist clumps form. Pat the dough into the bottom of the pan (not the sides), forming an even layer. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then bake until golden, about 22 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.
Whisk milk, sugar, butter, syrup, and vanilla in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Boil gently, whisking constantly, until the caramel is thick, golden, and a candy thermometer registers 225°F. This took me about 15 minutes. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust, spreading in an even layer. Let cool for 15 minutes to set.
Combine chopped chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir, then microwave on high in 15-second intervals, stirring between each, until chocolate is smooth. Do not overheat or the mixture will separate. This took me 1 minute and 15 seconds total microwave time, but your results will vary depending on your microwave. Spread the chocolate over the caramel, spreading in an even layer. Sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. (Can be made up to three days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)
To serve, cut dessert lengthwise into strips, and then across into bars.