A Mother's Day Story. A special tribute from a daughter for her mother ...
I was going about my ‘busy business’ when Mama called. She was in unusually good spirits. “I think we should go on an adventure,” she suggested.
An adventure? My life was a whirlwind. Family obligations were important, and I went, if only for a couple of hours. I showed up. I brought gifts. I brought food. I had a good time, once I was there, but I always had to rush away as fast as I had rushed in.
I slowed my thinking for a moment. I wondered how many more opportunities we would have to spend time together.
Mama had been diagnosed with cancer; cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. My Mama, Carol, was a very beautiful woman, not vain, but conscious of her appearance. Her skin had become covered in lesions, and she suffered from alopecia.
I knew Mama was embarrassed about how she looked. You could feel her discomfort as people stared, and children pointed. It wasn’t often she wanted to go out in public. Now she was talking about an adventure.
“Okay. What kind of adventure? Who is we?” I returned.
“A girl trip. You, me, Mandi, and Candi. For Mother’s Day,” she added.
When we set off on the trip, we had no idea how important that adventure would become.
We boarded the swamp boat with about a dozen other people at South Louisiana. The swamp boat was large, with a sun cover and room to walk around. Mama wore long sleeves to cover the lesions on her arms, and a hat, where her long, dark hair used to grow. But she also wore a smile on her face; the first smile I had seen from her in a long while.
Genuine love beamed from her eyes as she watched us delight at the sight of the alligators and other wildlife in the Atchafalaya Basin. The tree moss blew in the wind as we sailed by, and even the remnants of an old cabin stood strong, right in the center of the basin, reminding us that there are always stories to be discovered, little things that we let pass us by every day without taking the time to notice.
We took pictures of wildlife and the scenery, of course, but as we disembarked, I turned around and snapped a picture of my Mama, and my daughters, Mandi and Candi coming off of the steps of the boat.
Just a snapshot ... the kind we think we are going to put in a scrapbook one day.
That was the last time I saw Mama really carefree, not in pain, but enjoying the breeze, enjoying her time with her girls. We didn’t think about the cancer on that trip. We just hung out together and truly enjoyed each other’s company. I felt so close to her, and to my girls; a true sense of peace that I had not felt in as long as I can remember.
No longer an obligation ...
I grew up as an only child in a single-parent household. My Mama was always at work, or with her friends. The responsibility that comes along with caring for yourself as a child, cooking your own dinner, and washing your own clothes ingrained in me an attitude of “get the business done first.”
It had to be that way, or I would suffer. I would be hungry, or I would have to wear dirty clothes to school. I wasn’t exactly a wallflower, but I stood back and took things in, assessed the situation, and was on guard, in case there was any danger lurking.
The only time I didn’t feel that pressure, at least not overwhelmingly so, was when my mind was so excited by the possibilities of adventure. Like as a seven year old, I took a plane alone across the country, from Louisiana to Tennessee, and returned on a Greyhound bus.
I was invigorated and in awe of my surroundings. Taking in everything that I could possibly learn from the experience. Seeing new places brought me into the pages of a book, a story that I did not know the answer to, a mystery that would unfold before my eyes.
This trip with Mama was no different. It awakened the adventurer in me, re-opened my eyes to the beauty in the world, and I saw my family as a unit that loves and supports each other. Watching my daughters help my mother off the last steps of the boat made me see how fragile she had become. I saw spending time with family not as an obligation, but the true desire to be with each other.
We held our adventure dear to our hearts, but it did not change our behavior. Real life soon took over. I worked up until the last minute on each subsequent holiday, showing up just to fulfill my family obligation. The girls did the same. The numbness of life’s responsibilities had set in.
So had Mama’s cancer … treatment after treatment was failing.
Introducing The Annual Great Mother's Day Adventure
The following year, my mother’s sister, Fay, rented a beach house in Galveston. The entire extended family was invited, and it was the first time that we had all been together since my grandmother had died.
Aunt Fay was there, with her daughter, Kay, and her children. My Uncle, Tommy, and his family were there, and of course, my Mama, Mandi and her husband, and me. Candi was pregnant with her first child and could not attend. Mama announced that we would come back, once the baby was born, for the 2nd Annual Great Mother’s Day Adventure.
We all sat down to enjoy dinner. We’d had a memorable day together. Being there, in that huge house, voices laughing in every corner, memories being shared, walks on the beach, felt like a scene in a Lifetime movie. Everyone was videoing everyone else videoing them. But there was an odd feeling hanging in the air, like the feeling when everyone gets together after a funeral. Happiness in the memories, sorrow at what has been lost.
My Aunt stood up from the table. “I want to make a speech,” she announced. It was a kind of clank on the wine glass at a wedding reception moment. The house quickly quietened down. She thanked everyone for coming and reminded us of the importance of family.
She then said that she had brought us all together in Galveston because my mother had always loved it there so much, and that she thought it was appropriate for us to say our last farewell to her there.
Aunt Fay announced that the trip was dedicated to my Mama and that it meant so much to see that everyone had turned out for the occasion.
2nd Annual Great Mother’s Day Adventure
Those last months with Mama were a struggle. I willed her to get up. I brought her spaghetti - her favorite, but she wouldn’t eat. I brought her new clean pajamas, but she was too tired to go put them on.
When Mother’s Day rolled around again, though Mama was weak, she remembered the promise of a 2nd Annual Great Mother’s Day Adventure. I was shocked. I wondered how in the world she was going to “do” Galveston when she couldn’t even put on her new pajamas. But she wanted to celebrate, she wanted to be with her family, and she found a way. One afternoon on that trip, we took lunch together at the Rainforest Café.
Mama ate hardly anything. We headed back to the car, which had been parked on a steep incline, and I watched Mama fall. I could hardly breathe as I watched my frail mother roll down the street before I could grab her. Her legs, face, and arm were covered with abrasions from the fall, and she was bleeding heavily from her knee.
Mama died a couple of months later. I was with her, alone in her room when she passed. It meant a lot to me that she had been the one with me when I took my first breath, and I was with her when she took her last.
... she had been the one with me when I took my first breath, and I was with her when she took her last.
For the first time since she was diagnosed, I cried, and I cried. We got permission to bury Mama’s ashes in her plot near my grandparents. As I sat down on the ground preparing to bury my Mama’s ashes, the rains came. The heavens opened and rain poured down like 10,000 tears. Umbrellas and shovel in hand, we buried my Mama’s ashes, next to her mother.
Mama's Great Mother's Day Adventure Becomes Tradition
The following year, when Mother’s Day came, there was emptiness. The longing for a little more time. The longing for her laughter, for someone to visit and bring a present to.
Then we remembered. The Great Mother’s Day Adventure. We would go again in her memory. The girls and I went back to Galveston, this time with Candi’s two children. We felt that togetherness that we had on our first trip to the Atchafalaya Basin. We bonded. We laughed, we cried.
The following year, it was a given. We were going on the Great Mother’s Day Adventure. Year after year we continued the tradition of Mama’s Great Mother’s Day Adventure. Mama’s Great Mother’s Day Adventure started as a girl’s day out. Now, my son, Andrew, and all my grandchildren join us.
Mama’s Great Mother’s Day Adventure started as a girl’s day out. Now, my son, Andrew, and all my grandchildren join us.
Did my Mama know she’d start a tradition? Did Mama know that our first adventure would change our family for generations to come?
This year we are planning our 16th Annual Great Mother’s Day Adventure. I have faith that my children will continue to honor our Annual Great Mother’s Day Adventure and pass on the legacy to their children.
Thank you, Mama. You taught me to slow down. You taught me the importance of taking time for family while we are alive. That we should never be too busy for family, or look at our time together as an obligation. Family is everything.
Dear Mama, may your Great Mother’s Day Adventure endure as you do in our hearts.
More About Me - Terri Stovall ...
I am a Traditional Naturopath in my day job and an artist, which is my retirement plan. I teach painting (canvas and furniture painting online tutorials) and creative business strategies while living in rural Louisiana on a farm with my husband. My children are my greatest contribution to the world, and my grandchildren are the joy of my life.
My future plans, other than the Great Mother’s Day Adventure, are to travel the country, inspiring other women to reach for their joy while experiencing the thrill of the ride.
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