Lying alone in my king sized bed, I rolled over to reach up and pull back the edge of the curtain. I wanted to know what the outside day looked like. The sky was the color of unpolished pewter and it matched my mood. I wanted nothing more than to roll back over and sink deep into the soft sheets, pull the covers over my head, and drift to a place where I could pretend that life made sense.
The Miracle of Birth
It was my tenth Mother’s Day. The day of my daughter’s birth played in my mind like a surreal movie scene. I closed my eyes and I felt her tiny fingers curl around my pinky, and my heart expanded. With that tiny squeeze love poured out of my chest, down my arm, through my fingers and straight into this tiny being. My little girl arrived in the world forever tethering me with something that had no beginning or end. In that moment of connection, memories of my own life flashed through my mind as I imagined what was to come: her first step, first word, first day at school, first kiss, first love, first heartbreak, her own first child.
The Promise and Reality of Motherhood
I imagined what a great mom I was going to be. I would take care of my little girl, treasure, protect, love, and teach her. We named her Nicole Louise. My husband and I glanced at each other, our eyes meeting briefly on their way to Nikki’s beautiful face full of love, promise, and wonder. If we looked at each other too long, we would have to acknowledge the fear, feelings of inadequacy, thoughts that we might fail, the truth that we were now vulnerable in a way that didn’t exist before. My daughter’s birth wasn’t easy. When the doctor said C-section, I felt like I had already failed. The perfect birth I imagined gave way to the reality that much of life is beyond our control.
Before memories completely swallowed me, my boys, ages seven and five, came bursting into my room bringing breakfast in bed. Burnt toast and coffee momentarily took away the pain from the jagged pieces of my broken heart. Nikki died the year before after struggling with cancer for most of her nine years. My husband was also gone – he too died from cancer four months before Nikki. “Happy Mother’s Day” they shouted through mile-wide grins. The phone rang and in that brief moment of courage looking at my smiling boys, I accepted a dinner invitation to my brother and sister-in-law’s house. It was time to get moving.
Driving down Trent Ave, with the sun shining and fresh air gushing through the open windows, all tears were swept away. Suddenly, Michael, my oldest son screamed “Oh no! Nikki’s red heart flew out the window!” “Why did you have it with you?” I snapped, not able to hide my irritation that he could have lost something that belonged to Nikki even though I had no idea what heart he was talking about.
“I don’t know,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. I pulled the car over to the side of the highway.
“Let’s go back and look for it,” I said much more gently. “It’s probably smashed by now,” my eternal pessimist said. I smiled as I made a u-turn and headed back up the highway. “Don’t give up before we even start looking,” I said.
Luckily, I had been driving in the curb lane. Traffic was light and I was able to drive slowly. “I’ll help to look too,” Matt, my young optimist said from the backseat. We searched the ground for any hint of red. Nothing. Seeing the disappointment in Michael’s eyes, I flipped another U-turn and retraced the road again. Still nothing.
“See, it’s gone,” Michael’s face was so sad. I knew he missed Nikki as much as I did. They had been very close in spite of all the time she spent in the hospital isolated from her brothers.
“Maybe,” I said, “it isn’t gone. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere along the side of the road and some little boy will come along and find it. Maybe he didn’t have a Mother’s Day gift for his mom and when he finds it, he’ll take it home and give it to her. Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.”
He gave me his familiar “oh mom” look that he saved for the all too often times when I tried to stretch something bad into something good. But the corner of his mouth lifted slightly and he eased back into his seat. From the back seat, Matt said, “yeah, maybe it could happen.”
We continued on to my brother’s house. Dinner was slow and the afternoon dragged. But as I watched the boys play with their cousins, the heart long forgotten, I was glad I had come. Finally, as the sun was setting, it was time to go home.
The boys collected their things and we loaded back into the truck. Michael claimed the front seat once again and Matt climbed into the back, tripping as he stumbled over something on the floor. As I was backing out of the driveway, he shouted, “It’s not lost! It isn’t lost! Nikki’s heart. Here it is! It didn’t fly out of the window – it flew in the back seat!” He was so excited. Michael and I exchanged looks as Matt handed the heart to me and said – “Happy Mother’s Day mommy.”
I looked at the red wooden heart. I remembered the day she painted it. I thought I had put it away with all of the other treasures she created during countless hospital stays. My words came back to me, “Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.” At that moment, I once again felt her tiny finger wrap around my pinky. This painted wooden heart profoundly reminded me that death had not ended our connection. We were tethered for eternity and I would always be Nikki’s mother.