My Graduation Is On Mother’s Day, But My Mom Won’t Be There

"I have a lifetime of momless moments ahead of me, but I’ve prepared for those since her death. What I hadn’t prepared for was that I’d have to celebrate one of those milestones on a day that I typically spend in mourning."

My mom and I had a routine when I was growing up. I’d curl up next to her on our sagging couch and tell her my latest story while she listened. The stories were almost always steeped in magical realism or complete fantasy — with some contemporary fiction thrown in.

We were surrounded by my creations. My drawings, often illustrations to match my stories, hung on the walls of our apartment. Jewelry I’d made with wire and beads lay on the bookshelves. My clay pots and cat statues adorned our coffee table. My mom always used to say, “You’ll be a writer and an artist someday.”

When I was eleven, she died, and I felt completely lost. My world had shifted; instead of telling my mom my stories every day, I told my dad, who I’d formerly only visited every other weekend and for two week-long vacations.

Although I’d always been a writer, I threw myself into the depths of it after her death. I wrote a memoir aimed at middle grade readers about what it was like losing my mom. As I held a bound copy of it in my hands on the way to the mayor’s office — he’d heard a local kid had written a book and wanted to meet me — all I could think about was my mom, who should’ve been there to see me becoming a writer.

I haven’t given up on writing, or my dreams of being in the publishing industry. On the day my work was first published in the digital version of Cosmopolitan, I held back tears, because that was her favorite magazine when she was alive.

This year is particularly hard for me because I’m graduating with my master’s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College, and my commencement ceremony is on Mother’s Day.

The one day I really wish I could share with my mom, one that’s universally meant for her — and she won’t be there.

Most years, I reserve Mother’s Day for my mom, so it’s a somewhat sad day. I pull out a book, curl up with my cats, and quietly mourn another year without her. When I found out that my graduation was going to be held on Mother’s Day, my first thought was, “I won’t go.” Why would I want to celebrate on a day that I usually spend missing my mom, especially when I’d already be missing her more than usual?

After losing my mom, every accomplishment and success has felt bittersweet. When I published that first Cosmo piece, all I could think about was how she’d never read it.

It was the same way I felt the day I got my undergraduate college acceptance letter in the mail, in the big blue packet full of university information with a felt pennant flag to hang on my wall.

"She listened to every single story I wanted to tell, and encouraged me to keep dreaming. If she’s watching out for me somehow from the beyond, I want her to see me graduate."

It was how I felt on my first day of graduate school as I walked across the Boston Common to my class in women’s media, and how I imagined I'd feel attending my graduation. How could I celebrate one of my biggest accomplishments without my mom by my side? How could I cross the stage without her waiting in the stands, wearing her jean jacket, oversized T-shirt, and clogs? How could I go home without topping the night off with our traditional celebratory Chinese food?

I have a lifetime of momless moments ahead of me, but I’ve prepared for those since her death. What I hadn’t prepared for was that I’d have to celebrate one of those milestones on a day that I typically spend in mourning. Every year, I check off Mother’s Day, October 5 (her birthday), and August 11 (the day she died) on the calendar. If I’m in the mood to smile and honor her more cheerfully, I will, but otherwise, I take off work and I don’t see anyone. I give myself permission to have a “Dark Day,” a la Luke Danes of Gilmore Girls.

Most of my momless moments are bittersweet — like my high school prom — but I hold off on the despair and appreciate them for what they are. My mourning days then become the time when I let myself be completely sad that my mom isn’t around. I miss her with abandon. I think about our tickle fights, and wish we could take another walk through our favorite park in Malden, Massachusetts — with a small detour for brownies on the way.

I wish I could wrap myself in a solitary blanket cocoon on Mother’s Day, but my mom would want me to celebrate my graduation.

She was the one who championed me, despite all my early elementary school teachers who thought I couldn’t make it because of my disabilities. She listened to every single story I wanted to tell, and encouraged me to keep dreaming. If she’s watching out for me somehow from the beyond, I want her to see me graduate.

I’ve had plenty of time to perfect my approach to momless moments, from that very first fall autumn I spent without her there to help me make crunchy leaf piles. I’m planning to take pieces of her with me to my graduation ceremony. I currently have lavender ombre hair, and purple was my mom’s favorite color, which is a favorite we’ve always shared. I’ll also be wearing the small silver claddagh ring she wore every day, and a sweater that says, “Love always,” which is how my mom used to sign every letter and card.

Even though she won’t be with me on my graduation, I know what she would say if she were, because it was what she always told me: “I love you more and more each day.”

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