I think of you when I smell black coffee.
I still have a voicemail of you singing me happy birthday that I’ll save forever but can’t listen to because it sucks the air from my lungs.
When you passed, I asked for a moment alone with you in your room to properly say goodbye. I didn’t do that with Grandpa Santino when I had the chance and I always regretted it. I hope you heard me.
You once told me that you never remarried because my grandad was the love of your life, and that was it for you. I miss you so much but I’m also relieved that you can finally be with him again. I hope you held him tight and danced and made up for all that lost time. I hope you still are.
I miss the comfort of your house. I miss the soft pink chair and Christmas Eve celebrations and your blue mugs full of steaming hot cocoa.
I miss your phone calls and tight squeezes.
I’m writing this on your birthday, a day that makes my heart ache not only because I miss you, but because it reminds of the women I am born of.
It’s a day that tugs on our family string, reminding us of the connections that on any other day we can go about ignoring.
One time when I was a child, I overheard a phone conversation between you and Mom. There was yelling; the kind that reaches your bones. I still don’t know what it was about.
I had similar fights with Mom growing up. We clashed more times than I’d like to admit. I often wondered how I could love a person so much, be housed in their body and born of their flesh, and still feel so misunderstood by them.
It wasn’t until you passed that I realized history was repeating itself. I had watched you and mom ricochet between love and resentment for years, and the ending of your life forced you both to face things you hadn’t ever fully dealt with.
I suddenly had a glimpse into the future and saw me and Mom in the same position years later, battling with the things we thought we could bury. I don’t want that.
But I was comforted when I saw that ultimately, in those moments, resentment falls away and love expands.
Years ago when Aunt Nancy was recovering from a surgery, she told Mom about how you lugged bags of groceries into her house and cooked her meals. “She’s good when you need her,” she said.
Even then I understood that these words had weight. Despite all the times you and your daughters clashed, you were always driven by a sense of responsibility and care for them, even into old age.
Mothering never stops.
In the nursing home just days before your last, I watched Mom carefully tuck in the blanket around you. I watched her smooth your hair and swab your mouth. She worked so delicately and lovingly that it shattered my heart into a million pieces.
I realized that I connected to a long chain of nurturing women.
We are good when we need each other.
I hope that I do you all proud.