On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

Red knitwork, horizontal

“Yes, Mom, what do you want?” I said quietly into the phone. “My boss is sitting right here, I can’t talk now.”

My Mom had been calling me every day at the office for six months. She had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of my 3rd year of law school.

As a newly-minted lawyer at a government agency in downtown DC, my first job, with a boss and my own office (albeit very small and without a window), I was learning to deal with her daily calls.

No, I can’t tell you that,” I told her.

She persisted.

Please, just tell me what your bra size is,” she asked again.

Mom, c’mon, I’m at work, I’m in my office,” I pleaded. “My boss, he’s a man, he is in my office, too.”

She pleaded right back.

I’m at the yarn store in Westport. I’m knitting you a sweater. Just give me the number.”

I gave up.

36B,” I whispered into the phone, as my boss rolled his eyes upward, squelching a laugh.

Exactly one year later my Mom died of cancer. (well, actually she died because of malpractice related to her cancer but that is a tale for another time.) She was 54 years old, I was 28.

I still have the beautiful red, V-neck cotton sweater with the just-below-the-elbow length sleeves she made me, although it no longer fits. It was as stylish then as it is now. She was a woman of both good taste and great kindness.

Some women complain that their elderly moms call them too often.

Every night, can you believe it, she calls me every single night, and then she worries if I am not home by 9 p.m. She tells me to eat my vegetables, have I gotten an eye check up lately, she bugs me about the kids or my job or my husband. When are we going to visit her? Who’s going to drive her to her doctor appointments? Or run to the store to get her a new light bulb or better reading glasses. I’m tired of hearing her complaints about who did or who didn’t sit with her at dinner. Honestly, my mom is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know what a busy life I have?

I bet she does know you have a life. Hers is shrinking in scope, yours isn’t and she wants to be a part of it.

My Mom called me at the office for over a year when she was ill. Then one day she stopped calling. Three weeks later, on a sunny spring afternoon in May as my Dad and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, in the ICU of a cancer hospital in New York City, hearing the beeps from the machines that had kept her alive ebb away, she died. It was mid-afternoon, on the Tuesday after Mother’s Day. Thoughtful as ever, she chose, I felt, to wait and not ruin the holiday for us.

I would give anything for one more phone call, nagging, annoying, insistent, critical, I’d take it.

And you know what, Mom, I’d say? You have a wonderful adult granddaughter and grandson that you never got to meet. And last year you became a great-grandparent, too.

What else would I tell her? Oh yes, my bra size has changed in the past 34 years. I don’t like the color red as much as I once did. But the sweater remains in my closet and it always will.

Miss you forever, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.




Filed under 1st Grandchild, 1st Job, Aging, Aging Parents, Baby Boomers, Family, Female Friends, Holidays, Lawyers, Moms, Women, Working Women

17 responses to “On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

  1. JFWolf08

    Ditto… 🙂 Well said. Happy Mothers Day…
    (And BTW –she was 55 when she died. (Feb. 1926- May 1981)..)

    Love your favorite ( and only) sister…


  2. Susan silver

    Beautiful and tears


  3. You brought tears to my eyes Nancy.
    Your mom was a great woman.


  4. It is the truth. made me cry!


  5. Caroline Fruedly

    My mum died at 46 of the same illness – malpractice related to colorectal cancer treatment when I was 27. I am now 45 and it still hurts. This was beautiful. Damn you for making me cry at work. Xx


  6. Allie

    Love this Nancy!



  7. momof3

    What a beautiful tribute! I, too, wish I could get one more phone call! Mothers Day is hard for us motherless mothers!


  8. Noaheta@aol.com

    Nancy that was beautiful and I am sitting here crying. Thanks for the memory Cousin Louise


  9. This is so beautiful. I’m so sorry you lost your mother at such a young age.
    I think Mother’s Day week or month or whatever is hard for many of us.
    I bought the first cell of anybody I knew in Manhattan and was made fun of for having “the mommy phone.” I miss those five phone calls a day now! Well three would have been perfect but….


  10. greg

    Nancy, That was a nice remembrance of Beverly. I too have very fond memories of her.(My memories of you at that time were somewhat different.) Your serious writing trumps your comical although I enjoy both.


  11. What a lovely tribute to your mom. I’ve been clearing out my basement closets–we might sell our house–and found some of the beaded flowers my mother made me. Some? She made bouquets and bouquets of them. How I hated getting yet another vase-full. But now the one I have left in the closet is, like your red sweater, a treasure.


  12. Julia Johnson

    Reading you in Nashville, TN. Enjoying every post. Have an 18-year old graduating senior daughter and a 16-year-old son. Thank you for this well timed reminder. I find myself losing patience with my 74-year-old mother with her frequent calls and oft repeated stories. I am thankful that she still works 3 days/week and has a very busy social life. I’m going to work harder on my patience and compassion.


  13. Me, son of Nancy, my legal name is Edward. My mother always say royalty in me and my sister. I remember the day after Princess Diana died I must have been about 9 years old and my mother was on her bed, glued to the T.V. watching the funeral and the news. I honestly thought that someone in the family had died or something horrible similar in scope had happened. My mother always has identified with the outsider, the people’s Princess, as Diana was affectionately known. We will always carry on the legacy of being charitable, enduring, and gutsy. I always wear my seatbelt (Diana did not in her Mercedes when her driver crashed for those not familiar). Grandma isn’t gone, she’s just somewhere where you can’t talk to her like you used to. She lives on through our hearts, our food, our souls, our ethics, and our future.

    Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba. B’alma di vra chir’utei v’yamlich malchutei, b’chayeichon uvyomeichon uvchayei d’chol beit Yisraeil, ba’agala uvizman kariv, v’im’ru: Amein.
    Y’hei shmei raba m’vorach l’olam ulolmei almaya.
    Yitbarach v’yishtabach v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam v’yitnasei, v’yit’hadar v’yit’aleh, v’yit’halal, sh’mei d’kudsha, b’rich Hu.
    L’eila min kol birchata v’shirata, tushb’chata v’nechemata, da’amiran b’alma, v’im’ru: Amein.
    Y’hei shlama raba min sh’maya v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisraeil, v’im’ru: Amein.
    Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisraeil, v’im’ru: Amen.

    May her memory be a blessing.

    p.s. Happy Mother’s Day


  14. Beautiful piece Nancy, and a lovely tribute to your mom. Hope you are having a nice Mother’s Day!


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