What I Wish I'd Told My Mother Before She Died

by Beth Pugh
Originally Published: 
A mother and daughter playing with sand on a beach
Kevin Russ / iStock

Some days it seems as though you’ve been gone much longer than the 11 years I’ve managed to make it through without you. Other times, it’s as if it were yesterday I watched the nurse in the teal blue scrubs shake her head before saying the words that haunt me still.

“She’s gone.”

And then, you were. Gone away from my arms and out of my sight, crossing a horizon ever out of my reach. Gone, too, was my every chance to tell you all the things I never found a way to say.

I know you always saw me as a daddy’s girl. But that changed when I started high school. You were blind to the change, and it happened so naturally, I never acknowledged it. You didn’t know it, but you were my rock through those four years. The distinction between mother and friend blurred during that time. I never told you, but you weren’t only my mother, you were also my best friend. Not Kristie or Nickie, not Kelly or Tiffany—they were my partners in crime, my secret keepers, my confidantes, but you surpassed them all. It was you I went dress shopping with. It was you I skipped school with. It was you I made spirit pants with. It was always you, Mom. To this day, no one has been able to fill the void you left, and I know no one ever will.

Do you remember in middle school when I begged to spend the night with my friends? You had it in your head it was because I was ashamed of the place we lived. Worse even, you thought I was ashamed of you, because you were sick. I told you I wasn’t, but I never told you just how wrong you were.

I could never be ashamed of you. Your sickness was a part of you, but it never consumed you. You found a way to live despite your pain. You found a way to love despite your sorrow. You dwindled away in your body, but your spirit continually soared, even on your worst days. I could not have been prouder of you. I just wish I could have found a way to tell you that.

I saw the sacrifices you made, even though I never mentioned them. You wore clothes you probably should have retired so I could have new ones. You sent me to the movies with my friends with change you found around the house, refusing to let me miss out. You took me to football games and department stores when all you really wanted to do was take a nap. You gave all you had to me every day. I’m sorry I never told you thank you. I tell you that a lot when I visit your grave.

You didn’t know it, but you were always first in my eyes, Mom. The sun rose and set on you. Of course, you were too humble to see that, and I was too cool to tell you. At 18, I wasn’t a heart-to-heart kind of person. I am now, though. I can’t count how many times I’ve whispered how much you mean to me in the middle of the night when the grief washes over me anew. Deep down, I know I’m just talking to a memory. You can’t hear me, but I like to pretend you can. It gets me through the times I can’t get through alone.

You were everything wholesome in the world to me. You were love and goodness, mercy and forgiveness. You were kindness and patience, and gravy and biscuits on Sunday morning. You were the yes to every no I chose to believe in. You were the infectious laugh that ended my tears. You were the tangerine swirls I longed for after school. You were the echo in my mind whispering, “You look pretty today,” when I felt beyond ugly. You were the push to keep going when I wanted to give up. You were chocolate chip marshmallow sandwiches warm from the microwave. You were safety and home. Basically you were everything I wanted to hold onto and never let go of.

And I never told you.

Now, I never can. You are resting in a place I cannot go to, and I’m living in a world you surely don’t miss. So I’ll do the next best thing. I’ll live out your love to everyone I meet. I’ll smile through my pain and get back up every time I stumble. I’ll be everything to my son you still are to me. I know it won’t be easy. Your shoes are hard to walk in, but I’m determined to be the kind, gentle, loving, passionate woman you taught me how to be.

It’s the least I can do.

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