Mitch Albom: Being motherless on Mother's Day, another sad passage of getting older

On Friday, as I was leaving work, someone yelled, “Don’t forget, Sunday is Mother’s Day.”

Years ago, I would have slapped my forehead, raced to a phone, found a 1-800 florist, and hoped that they could still deliver. Sons — especially in their career years — often forget Mother’s Day until, like an oncoming truck, it is right in their face.

For me, those days are gone. As is my mother. Today marks the 10th Mother’s Day I will mark without her. A full decade? Can that be? I no longer buy flowers. I don’t shop for cards. I don’t make brunch reservations.

Like a lot of middle-aged people, I live in the stage where marking this holiday is no longer fitting, but neither, in a way, is grieving it.

“It’s been long enough,” people say. Life goes on.

It does. But that’s little comfort.

What do the motherless do on Mother’s Day?

Why 'thank you' meant so much to her

Now, admittedly, not every mom makes a big deal out of this holiday. Mine did. She loved it. She reveled in the brunches, the cake, the special favors. She especially loved the cards. She was so obsessed with those Hallmark greetings, I even wrote a column about it once.

It wasn’t enough to buy her one. She wanted at least three. One could be funny. One could be sweet. But one had better be the kind that is frilly, goes on for two pages, gives credit for all the love, guidance, wisdom and patience she provided, and ends with something like “for all the things that we’ve been through, there has never been a mother more loving than you.”

“Read it out loud,” my mother would instruct. And when I finished, she’d smile and say, “Read it again.”

I did as she asked. I didn’t even roll my eyes. (Well, maybe a little.) Those cards were like Shakespeare sonnets to my Mom. I think she so enjoyed the attention because she’d grown up in a household where fusses weren’t made. Things were just expected. Like many in her crowded Brooklyn neighborhood, she shared a small apartment with numerous family members and her immigrant grandmother, all coming and going. It was hard to spoil a kid back then, when everyone was scraping to get by.

Then, when she was 16, her father, my grandfather, died of a sudden heart attack. He was 42. My mother went from being a teenage daughter to the caretaker for her younger brother and her mother, my grandmother, who suffered a severe nervous breakdown in becoming a widow.

Suddenly, all the plans and dreams for my mom — being the first in her family to go to college, continuing on to become a doctor — evaporated into the smoke of responsibility. No college. No med school. She went to work. She got married. She raised children. Her life was about others, as so many mothers’ lives are.

Missing the chance to remember this day

No wonder she liked a fuss once a year. Breakfast in bed when we were kids. Nice restaurants when we were older. I admit, I used to consider it a strain, flying to be with her for one Sunday in May. But once I got home and saw how happy it made her, I forget about all that.

How I wish I could call her today and say, “We're landing at 10, we’ll be at brunch by 11.” How I wish I could watch the huge smile creep across her face as she read the oversized card which I’d stuffed in my carry-on bag. How I wish she would study my suit, reach up, cup my face and coo, “Ooh, look how nice you look.”

Instead, I’ve gotten used to her being gone, her voice long since silenced, her eyes long since shut. It doesn’t sting the way it used to. I’m older, more responsible, more distracted from the loss. Since my father passed away, I think plenty about being an uncle, a brother, a mentor, a father figure to the kids in our orphanage in Haiti. But I don’t think a lot about being a son. Losing your folks robs you of that.

Yet today, when I see someone holding a car door open for a well-dressed woman clutching flowers, or I hear clapping from a restaurant table and see a white-haired matron in the middle of a brood, then I‘ll think about it. Then I’ll miss it. Then I’ll kick myself for ever needing a reminder about what the second Sunday in May signified.

What do the motherless do on Mothers Day? Maybe just remember the ones they use to celebrate. Or perhaps wander through a drugstore, pick up the biggest card, and read it out loud, amazed at how, whoever comes up with those words, manages to say everything I wish I could say to my mother right now.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Mitch Albom: Motherless on Mother's Day, another sad passage of aging