My First Mother's Day Without My Mother

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This will be my first motherless Mother’s Day. My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year, and I have spent each day since wondering how I could go on living without her. I desperately needed to see her, to talk to her, to ask her advice—just one more time.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that my mother had spent my whole life preparing me for the day that she would no longer be here. Mothering isn’t just about taking care of your kids when you are around. It’s about making sure that they will be okay when you are not. Somewhere between the late night talks, the arguments and just sitting around the table eating, I learned a few things from the way she lived that make me a little bit more okay now.

Take pride in your work.

My mother always worked. She was a seamstress, and she had some high profile customers—but whether she was sewing the First Daughter’s Christmas dress, a silk wedding dress, or dresses to be sent to third-world countries, the quality of the work was always same. At the end of the day, people will judge you by your work—not by what you earn.

Learn to sew a button.

My mother taught me to sew a button and hem pants at an early age. I once told her that I’d be able to pay someone else to do these things someday, so I didn’t need to learn. Her response was great: “If you don’t know how something is supposed to look, how will you ever know if the people you are paying are doing a good job?”

It takes a village.

My mom seemed like a sort of superwoman—able to make homemade pasta for 100 or bake hundreds of cookies for baby showers. But the truth is that she had help from her friends. No single person can be superwoman, but when women build each other up, they can be super, together.

Learn to swim.

My mother loved the water, but she never learned to swim. She drove us to a community pool for lessons and made sure we learned. Life throws you in the deep end sometimes without warning, and you need to hold your head above water.

Love fully and completely.

My mom didn’t get to live all of her dreams. (She always wanted to visit Las Vegas, for one thing, but never got there.) Still, she lived every day “all-in.” My daughter says that her Nonna’s hugs would squeeze the life out of her, but I tell her that she was squeezing her love in.

Always say goodbye.

I don’t know if it’s an Italian thing or a generational one, but my mom always made me kiss family hello and goodbye. I’m grateful for that, because it means the last time I saw her, I hugged my mom, said I love you and said good-bye—just like always. If I had known that it was the last time, I would never have been able to let go, but life often doesn’t give you warnings.

My mom lived her life out loud, and without apology. I miss her every second of every day and I don’t want to live my life without her in it. But I know I must. My most important job now as a mother is to make sure that when my daughter falls, she will be able to pick herself up—even when I am no longer here.

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