I woke up alone in my king-sized bed, rolled over, and reached up to pull back the edge of the curtain. The sky was the color of unpolished pewter, and it matched my mood. I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and escape to a place where I could pretend that life made sense.
It was Mothers’ Day again and I remembered my first day as a mother when my daughter was born in 1985. As if playing a scene from a favorite movie where fact and fiction blur, I felt her tiny fingers curl around mine and squeeze as my heart poured out of my chest, down my arm, through my fingers and straight into her tiny form. My little girl arrived in the world, and I was forever tethered by something that had no beginning or end. In that eternal moment of connection, I imagined her whole life and what was to come: her first step, first word, first day at school, first love, first kiss, first heartbreak, her own first child.
My life was now connected to another human being, a human being that had grown for nine months within me, in a way that far surpassed the connection to my husband or even my own parents. I witnessed the very moment she came into this world. I was her introduction, her pathway, and my husband and I would be her guides and protectors in life. We named her Nicole and called her Nikki.
My husband’s eyes met mine just long enough to acknowledge the promise of the miracle that rested in my arms. If we looked at each other too long, we would have to acknowledge the fear, the thought that we might fail, and the truth that we were now vulnerable in a way that did not exist before. It was not an easy birth. We were the one in four statistic that delivered by caesarean section. She could have died. Already I knew the danger of such a profound love.
Ten years later and it was a very different Mother’s Day from that first one when I became a mother. Two more children and a heart so broken that the jagged pieces pierced freshly with each tiny memory. Nikki died at nine years old only four months after my husband—both from cancer. For Nikki, there was no first love, no first kiss, no promise fulfilled, and no future in this world.
My boys, seven and five years old, brought me out of my memories and back to the present day as they burst into my room to bring me breakfast in bed with exclamations of Happy Mother’s Day. I smiled at the burnt toast and coffee and let gratefulness and a wave of love dispel the sorrow. Just as quickly as they came, they were gone again moving from one moment to the next without so much as a backward glance.
I needed to get moving. In a moment of courage, I accepted a dinner invitation from my sister-in-law when all I really wanted to do was pull the covers back over my head.
A few hours later, we were driving down Trent Ave and the sun had found its way out. The air felt good coming through the open windows. Suddenly, Michael, my oldest who had been waving his arm out the window, screamed that Nikki’s heart was gone. Even though I had no idea what he was talking about, I pulled over to the side of the road.
He brought along a red wooden heart that Nikki had painted during one of her long hospital stays. He was holding it out the window and it slipped away. The thought that he lost something that belonged to Nikki felt irrationally like I was losing her again.
I tried unsuccessfully to contain the irritation in my voice, “Why did you have that with you?” My voice softened immediately when I saw his eyes fill with tears. “We’ll go back and look for it,” I said as gently as I could. “It’s no use, it’s gone,” he said. I tried to cheer him up after two u-turns and careful surveillance of the side of the road produced nothing.
“Maybe,” I said, “it isn’t gone. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere along the side of the road and a little boy who didn’t have a Mother’s Day gift for his mom will find it. He’ll take it home and give it to her. Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.”
He rolled his eyes, but the corner of his mouth lifted slightly and he eased back into his seat. From the back seat, Matt chimed in with, “Yeah, it could happen.” I pulled back onto the highway and tried not to look back.
Dinner was good and I was grateful that the boys had fun playing with their cousins, but I was exhausted and relieved when it was finally time to go home. Michael claimed the front seat again and Matt climbed in the back. As I began to pull out of the driveway, I was startled into slamming on my brakes at Matt’s shouting. “It’s not lost. Look, it isn’t lost! Nikki’s heart, here it is. It flew back here, not out the window!” Beaming, Matt handed me the heart and said, “Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!”
I looked at the red wooden heart and Michael and I exchanged a glance that conveyed my words; “Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.” At that moment, I was reminded again, without a doubt, that it was possible to exist outside of time in a place without beginning or end. It was the same feeling that I had when Nikki’s tiny fingers first wrapped around mine. Death had not really taken her from me; only her body was gone. We were still connected—tethered eternally and evidenced in a painted wooden heart that I could feel beating as I held it in my hand.