Flipping through a mountain of photos from my parents’ house, I stumbled upon this one. The photograph is low quality, grainy, discolored, and dark, the product of 1970s camera tech and film that likely sat around too long before being developed. But there is enough in the four by six print to know what it depicts. It is my first birthday and I am sitting in a high chair in the living room of the house in which I grew up. On the table in front of me is a birthday cake my mother made. She always made gorgeous cakes and this design was one of my favorites. I remember she made it for me multiple times. It is a doll where the entire skirt of the doll is the cake, expertly decorated in sweet frosting. In the darkness of the photo, you can see my mother, crouched down next to me, looking at me. I can almost hear her voice as she sings happy birthday to me.

This picture depicts my first birthday. It would have been the very first time she ever sang that song to me. This past March, she sang it to me for the last time.

My mom passed away last week.

Through 41 years, my mom never missed an opportunity to sing me happy birthday.  It was a somewhat silly tradition that grew in importance to her as the years passed. When I was young, living at home, she’d awaken me with it every year. As unhappy as I was to have to leave my warm, comfy bed and go to school, her rousing rendition of the birthday song somehow made the whole thing a little less unpleasant.

At some point during my first year of college, I made a passing comment that I needed her to call me on my birthday and sing or it wouldn’t feel like it was really my birthday. She seized on that comment and never let it go. I think, for her, it was proof that her proudly independent daughter, who left for her first semester of college and never lived at home again, still needed her.

And so began a tradition of carefully planning when she would call each year, because god forbid she miss the opportunity. Answering machine and voicemail messages would not do. Calls the day after, or on the less busy weekend, were simply unacceptable. She had to sing – directly to me  – on my birthday. The passage of time did not diminish the importance of the ritual. If anything, it made it more important. It didn’t matter that I was 35 with a career, a home, and a husband. If the plan was for her to call me at 10:00 a.m., and some judge and jury were waiting for me in a courtroom somewhere, then they would all just have to wait. Birthday singing was more important.

These past few years, as her world grew smaller and turned inward, the function of years of untreated physical health problems and creeping dementia, the importance of those calls grew to an almost goofy level. She’d call me two weeks before my birthday to ask what time I wanted her to call me on my birthday. It was honestly the most important item on her monthly to-do list.

The fact that it was so important to her to sing to me every year stood in stark contrast to her unwillingness to address her own medical issues. When a person has underlying mental health problems, they rarely get better with age. Indeed, they usually get much, much worse, and my mom’s situation was an example of that. My mother was complicated and my relationship with her – everyone’s relationship with her – was difficult because of it. Her unwillingness to do the simple things that could have solved her problems was a constant source of frustration. But as exasperating as she could be, she was still the caring, compassionate, entirely dedicated mother that so many people less fortunate than us would kill to have. Growing up, she was always present. Every soccer, basketball, tennis, or lacrosse game, every dance recital, school play, science fair, or awards assembly, there was mom. She wouldn’t dream of missing any of it. That interest in our lives continued on into adulthood, and quickly extended to her grandkids.

Over the past several years, her health had declined to a degree where it seemed her entire being was balanced on an ever more precarious point, and once the delicate balance that had been in place was disturbed – the result of a fall and trip to the hospital – it was one issue after another. Phrases like “medical whack-a-mole” and “cascading failures” became common as my brothers and I discussed our mother’s increasingly dire medical situation. The last several weeks have been a blur of panicked phone calls and text messages, cross country flights, hours spent in hospital rooms, and time spent helping my dad get sorted and settled. Fortunately, our tight-knit family banded together and supported one another as we made our way through a minefield of difficult choices.

The downside of all this busyness is that we have been left physically, mentally, and emotionally spent. Repeatedly flying back and forth across the country, canceling and reworking our schedule in order to be near airports, blowing through our daily mileage limits in order to be where we needed to be when we needed to be there, and spending day after day running all over creation trying to help my family in whatever ways we could was difficult. Doing all of that while absorbing the emotional impact of losing my mother was, often, completely overwhelming.

Sorting through these family photos was, in equal measures, saddening and therapeutic, but finding this particular picture was especially poignant for me. For most viewers, it would be a photo indistinguishable in importance from any of the others. But, for me, it represents the very first time my mother, who was always there, celebrated my being there in the first place. Forty more times she celebrated with me in this exact way. A simple song to mark the occasion and make it “officially” my birthday.

I will miss my mom in more ways than I could ever count. No blog post, no book, could ever contain all the things she did or said that made her “Mom.” More importantly, words on a page simply cannot convey the comfort a child gets when his or her mother’s presence at a particular moment in time is the difference between fear that everything is wrong and belief that everything will be ok. That sense of comfort and peace long outlives childhood, and it is the thing my mind has wandered to repeatedly over these last several days.

In a million small ways, my mother’s passing has reminded my brothers and I of all the ways she showed us how much she loved us. We were her whole world and she never let us forget it.

We’ll never forget her, either.



  1. Beautiful post, Laura. You have captured her essence well. These last few weeks have been intense and it has made such a difference having the close relationships we have. Mom was always kind to me – and loved me from the start and I have always been grateful for that. I loved mom very much as well and hope she has finally found peace. Much love…..

  2. Well done Laura. Your eloquent description of mom through the years brought both smiles, frustration, and tears. This has been a crazy process but I’m most appreciative of having each other to get through it all. Thank you for being a voice for all of us.

  3. Oh Laura…for some reason I’ve been worried about you. I kept thinking something must be wrong…she hasn’t posted in awhile. Despite never meeting in person, I have felt a connection to you….your writing., sense of humor.
    I am so so sorry for your loss. You are in my thought & prayers.
    This post is beautifully written. You truly are a gifted writer.

  4. You have our sincere condolences on your loss. We know from personal experience how difficult it can be to navigate medical challenges for a parent and make excruciating choices. Ken’s mom passed away a year ago next week, which was one event that motivated us to hit the road. So we can also confirm that with some time all the heartache and second-guessing of the last months/days/hours will be overtaken by sweet memories like the ones you shared here.

  5. This is such a beautifully loving tribute to your mom. I adore that she made those doll cakes, what memories they evoke. Even though we’ve not connected in person, I know from the virtual you that your mom raised one hell of a daughter. I am very sorry you have to endure the pain of losing her, and I wish you nothing but peace as you walk through this valley.

  6. So beautifully written Laura and my thoughts and prayers are with you during what I’m sure is a very difficult time. There are so many things I want to say but really I don’t think they will help, just look after yourself and know that you cared about by so many.

  7. Such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to your mom. My prayers to you and your family. We had a similar situation just last week, where my boys lost their father to COPD and the relentless complications that are associated with it. He celebrated his 63rd birthday while in the hospital. It has been tough on the boys. It was sudden and very unexpected as we all did not know much about his illness and how serious it was. He lived in Texas, which was another hurdle and like you, had to travel unexpectedly. Again, my condolences to you. So ready for October to be over.

  8. Laura,
    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s obvious that your mom was a very special lady and she will live on through you. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  9. I was just thinking about you recently and wondered why you were so quiet. I am so, so very sorry for your loss. The loss of a parent is a great one no matter of your age. I lost my mom totally unexpectedly in 2014 and my dad 8 months later. I truly believe he died of a broken heart. Navigating with him after her passing was quite the challenge as well. I hope your dad does okay in the coming days, weeks and months and has a support system too. Sounds like you and your siblings are taking good care of him also. I am sure you are exhausted both physically and mentally. Take time for you now so you can heal. Again, so very sorry.

  10. What a beautiful tribute, Laura. Two weekends ago we had my mother’s unveiling in NJ. The rabbi spoke about how we were all gathered at the gravesite again, but are in an entirely different place and frame of mind than when we were last together for the funeral over a year ago. For me, that rang true. The memories of happier times have overtaken the initial shock and stress of those weeks and months both before and after her death. There is a saying — may your mother’s memory be for a blessing. Take care of yourself.
    With sympathy,
    Judy Richmond

  11. Henry and I send you and your whole family our deepest sympathies. The testament to your Mother was beautifully written and heartfelt. Cherish these memories. Thinking of you and sending condolences.

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. You’ve been on my mind lately and I wondered how you were doing as I made “that” birthday cake for my daughter … which was a huge hit.
    Such a lovely, well written post. Thank you for sharing. Again, my sincerest condolences.

  13. My deepest condolences for you and your family. Clearly you had a very special bond with your mother despite her difficulties as she aged. I feel your pain as I read your post knowing what your going through as my mother and I have a similar relationship. Thank you for sharing your deepest feelings …it has strengthen my resolve to be more kind to my mother despite her difficult personality.


  14. Mothers are our foundation, no matter how the relationship evolves through time. I’m so sorry for your loss, for the end of the chapter. People say time heals all wounds, but maybe not this one. Time rounds the edges, but the loss is always with you. A song, a phrase, a smell brings her right back. My mother died almost 20 years ago and tears still spring unbidden – but more often smiles come when I think of her. Here’s to smiles!

  15. Oh, Laura, this is such a beautiful and loving tribute to your mother. She obviously loved you deeply—and it is a gift to her that you honor her with remembering and appreciating all of the ways that she was uniquely “Mom.” Wishing you and your family peace.

  16. Lovely story about your relationship with your mom. I think going through the family photos is a necessary therapeutic task. I’m glad you found it comforting. My love to you and your family.

  17. What a lovely tribute to your Mom, Laura. I love the photo and all that it represents. I am so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you in this difficult time. <3

  18. Great note to remember your Mom with, like happens and we have to deal with it, all we can do is go forward and keep the memories we have. Hope things get back to “normal” and we can catch up in person. Part of the reason we have been going back and forth to California is to see my Mom who just turned 90. Time flys and you do what you have to do. Take care, love you guys.

  19. Well, we just walked in the door after burying Irv’s mom, who also dies with dementia last week, and I read your post. Our deepest condolences, Laura. Peace to you and your family.

  20. I am so sorry to hear of your loss! I will be thinking of you and sending virtual hugs because there are no words that take the pain away.

  21. Cherished moments and memories with your mom will always be in your heart and will be the salve of your broken heart. She is smiling in heaven reading your sweet and special tribute.
    They say time heals grief and sadness but only you can tell in time. In the meantime, life goes on in your own time.
    Take care and hugs from Steve and I

  22. So very sorry for your lose, Laura. This is such a beautiful tribute for your mother. Sounds like you have many wonderful memories to help carry you through. Your first birthday photo was certainly a treasure for you to hang on to. Thinking of you and your family:)

  23. Such a beautiful tribute. I’m glad you have a supportive family, it makes things so much easier. In time, happy memories will overtake the deepest pain. It never completely goes away, but it does diminish. Wishing you and your family peace.

  24. Such a beautiful way to remember your mother. I’m so sorry for your loss, and glad you have your family and Kevin to lean on. I hope that you now have time to rest and heal yourself.

  25. So very sorry to hear about your Mother. As always your writings have a way of bringing such events down to a personal level. You were very fortunate to have such a loving and caring mother. My deepest condolences and sympathy to you and your family.

  26. I am so sorry to read about your mother’s passing. Your tribute was beautiful and so well done. You truly paint the picture of a lovely mother and your growing up. You were both so blessed, you whole family was, to have such a mother. You are also blessed to have a close-knit family…that makes a world of difference. With all that, the sadness can be overwhelming. Try to remember the good times with joy..but its ok and good to mourn as long as you need. Time will help. Thank you for sharing.

  27. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. That was such a beautiful eulogy, I wish she could have read it before she died, she would have loved it! Moms are everything to us, even the challenging ones (which I had). It it is so hard when our moms leave, it takes a long time to get thru that. Take care of yourself.

  28. I am constantly amazed by how powerful the written word is and how truly gifted writers can evoke such emotions by the simple act of putting their stories onto paper. All this to say, I am moved by your loving post about your mother and heartbroken for your family and extended family. My best wishes to all of you for sunnier days ahead.

    I should send you a t-shirt that says, “I made an stranger on the internet cry today”.

  29. Your mother was also very lucky to have you. This tribute you wrote demonstrates that, and so do all her happy birthdays. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memorial. I hope you get some time to rest as you make your way through the grief and that long list of tasks that come with a parent’s passing.

  30. Oh, Laura, I’m so, so, so sorry for your loss. This post is beautiful, touching, and a lovely remembrance of how much she loved you all, and the photo is absolutely priceless. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. There are no words adequate to take away your pain, but know so many people are thinking of you and wishing they could ease your loss. Hugs to you.

  31. I’m just now getting caught up on your posts and had no idea you mom passed. We miss you guys so much and I am so very sorry about your mom, Laura. Wish I could give you a big hug. Hopefully, I’ll be able to soon!

  32. I missed this post but received your next post in my email (most WP gets into my spam). I had to see what had happened and found this beautiful tribute to your precious mom! What an amazing legacy she left.
    Our deepest condolences.

  33. Wow Laura. I am sincerely sorry for your loss. Your post was a moving tribute to a life that was not insignificant. May she Rest In Peace, and you find comfort in your memories of her.


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