Then, gradually, I began to think of past and present blessings instead of focusing on my losses.
There have been lingering memories of my mother -- whose voice I haven't heard in more than 30 years. She was wonderfully down-to-earth with an endearing dash of whimsy. She never failed to surprise us -- sometimes positively, sometimes not.
There was the time when, stripping sheets on laundry day, she discovered the diary of sexual fantasies that my brother, then about 12 or 13, had written and stashed under his mattress. Delighted, she took it to our father and read whole passages aloud as my brother cringed in the background. "Listen to this," she said, beaming with pride. "His writing is so vivid, so wonderfully descriptive! He's really a gifted writer, don't you think?"
She was enthusiastic, supportive, and, through all the pain and chaos of her later life, loved all three of us immensely and unconditionally. She had tremendous warmth that prompted people everywhere she went to confide in and befriend her. Though her life wasn't easy, she never lost hope and faith in the future. And I feel blessed to have loved her -- and to have felt her love.
My feelings about Mother's Day also began to shift as I focused on the blessings of the present.
Some years ago, Mike, Tai and I started honoring our beloved Aunt Molly, who had never married or had children of her own, but who was, in a very real sense, a third parent to us as we were growing up. We would take her to a Mother's Day brunch at her favorite restaurant, give her cards, gifts and, most important, our undivided attention on that day. Although she was often the focus of our social lives individually, Mother's Day was a time when we honored her together -- with Tai traveling from Seattle for the festivities. And when she died at 86 in 2004, although her death was in January, we held her ashes until Mother's Day, when Tai could fly down to L.A. and we buried her beside her mother, who had passed away when Molly was a teenager. Although there were tears, there was also a lot of laughter as we read some of her poetry -- she was an award-winning poet and television writer -- during the graveside service and reflected on all the joy, all the adventures, all the wisdom she had given us over the years. And we felt blessed.
Thinking about some very special women who were and are dear friends and mother figures to me has made Mother's Day a happier occasion, too. I think of two very special nuns -- Sister Rita McCormack, who was a young teacher at my elementary school, and Sister Ramona Bascom, whose first year of teaching high school was my senior year. Both brought so much warmth and comfort to my youth followed by lifelong friendships that have meant the world to me. And my mother's two sisters Evelyn and Ruth were so loving and emotionally present in my life in the years between my mother's death and their own. I remember these four very special women -- the sisters still living, my aunts now deceased -- and I feel blessed.
It has been comforting, as well, to see my siblings Mike and Tai become parents. Although, due to geographic distance and a significant age gap, I haven't been able to be nearly the aunt to Nick or Maggie that Aunt Molly was to us, I delight in their existence and their growth. Aunt Molly was only 27 when I was born and spent weekends and every vacation with us. I was 45 when Nick was born and 64 when Maggie arrived in the world. I may not run along a beach with them, romping in the surf, but I quietly cheer them on as they grow into unique and very special people. And I feel blessed to know them.
And there is one young person, related not by blood, but bonded forever with love, who brings joy to each Mother's Day. Ryan Grady was 9 years old when he came into our lives, as Bob's third -- and most loved -- Little Brother in the Big Brother's program. From his first meeting with Bob -- when he sang "The Glory of Love" in the car on the way to play miniature golf -- Ryan was a delight. If we had been blessed with a child, we couldn't have asked for a more wonderful boy. He loved to talk and shared many of our interests in literature, music and psychology. He was smart, loved to argue recreationally and had unusual tastes for a little boy. The first Christmas we knew him, he surprised us with his gift request: a print of Monet's lilies "in a good frame". He used to laugh and tell us "Well, I was born to other people whom I love a lot, but, face it, I'm your kid!"
We were not surprised when he suddenly told us, in the car on the way to a college fair when he was 14, "Hey, guys, I love you so much and I just want you to know...I'm gay!" And when he grew up and met Sean, his life partner, we rejoiced in having another fine young man to love.
Ryan is now a 27-year-old graduate student in social work, well on his way to becoming an LCSW. With his warmth, compassion, keen insight and excellent sense of humor, he'll be a terrific therapist. Although we now live too far away to pop in and out of each other's homes quite the way we used to, Ryan calls regularly -- and never forgets our birthdays, Father's Day -- or Mother's Day. Getting that call from Ryan to wish me the best and say "I love you." makes that day I used to hate something quite special.
My mother is gone. And I'll never be a mother. I've never had the joy and challenge of raising a child from infancy to adulthood. But to share in the pleasure of watching a delightful young boy grow into a gracious, giving young man has been one of the sweetest experiences of my life. And I feel immensely blessed.