VOICES

Last Mother’s Day, I lost Mom to cancer. I'm mailing my card to heaven this year.

Moving on is such a strange term. I don’t want to pack you away. I don’t want to forget you. I feel like I need to remember you now more than ever.

Ashley May
USA TODAY

Hey Mom,

It’s been a year since you left us Mother’s Day morning. I still hate that you’re gone just as much as I did this time last year. When we had to call the nurse. To tell her you had taken your last breath. 

That hospital was so gray. I tried to make it more cheerful for you with photos of the kids. Bible verses on the mirror. Notes to your nurses making sure they knew you were a “warrior” who had beat cancer before. And, the balloon arch. Sorry if I kept you up trying to figure out how to use that manual air pump from the dollar store. You know I’ve always struggled sitting still. 

I’m still busy. Busy job. Busy family. I did take time off around the funeral. Dad and I made sure you had a nice casket. Casket shopping isn’t exactly like picking out a new dress. Oh, and that was weird – picking out your clothes. Mom, I had to provide underwear. Do you know how awkward it is to hand some funeral director your dead mother’s bra and panties? I offered options, which apparently is not something you do because the seconds were handed back and I was just left there with Dad talking about your arrangements while holding your underwear. 

Ashley's mom, Debbie May, spending her birthday helping care for her newborn granddaughter at the time and her grandson, left. Debbie died of leukemia on May 9, 2021. She was 65.

You have to find reasons to laugh, right? We always did.

Anyway, I picked out that black leather-looking blazer with a black dress I liked. Remember I have a blazer that looks nearly identical and we showed up to dinner one night matching? Maybe that’s why I chose it. Another way to keep us connected. 

We’ll always be connected, I know, but the past year hasn’t been the same. I’ve wanted to call you every day. I can’t. I’ve needed to vent, to get advice, to find inspiration, to ask how to make your spelt waffles, to ask you to come over. To tell you I miss you. Telling a therapist isn’t the same. 

A photo of Ashley May's mother, Debbie, posing during a family vacation. Debbie was introverted but known to have a great sense of humor.

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I missed you at birthdays I felt overwhelmed planning. I missed you at Thanksgiving, when I exploded a glass baking dish in the oven and Christmas when there wasn’t a tree at your house and Easter when you weren’t there to see the kids’ egg hunt. I missed you yesterday. I miss you today. I’ll miss you tomorrow.  

The kids miss you. They ask about you and Heaven and have asked when they’ll see you again. 

Jonathan, Debbie and Ashley May pose for a photo around the holidays when Ashley was a baby.

I hope there’s a window up there you can look through to see how much they’ve grown. 

Dad misses you. I know I told you I’d take care of him, but I’m not sure I’m doing a good job. We did convince him to go on that beach trip we had planned before you went into the hospital. We went around his birthday, and it was good to be together. Then, we came home and it was strange to fall back into a schedule. A drive to pick up the kids, when I’d usually call you. A look at our text message thread full of photos back and forth, punctuated by your replies (“Getting so big darling girl” / “Awww love him” / “Love you!”) is still there. Your number is still in my phone.

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Debbie, left, and Jonathan, right, on their wedding day. They were married 32 years.

Visiting the house is different. Dad has arranged everything very “practically.” All the plants are clustered around windows, and that long side table in the family room is poking out into the sitting area so he can get to the window. He has photos of you everywhere. 

A childhood photo shows Ashley May posing with her mom before they cut down their Christmas tree. (They didn't actually cut it down. Props go to Ashley's dad for that.)

Moving on is such a strange term. It seems like this moment when you pack away feelings about loss and go on with your life. But, I don’t want to pack you away. I don’t want to forget you. I feel like I need to remember you now more than ever.

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I need to remember how you made motherhood look so easy. I need to remember how even when I would loudly disagree with you, I never once doubted your unfailing love for me. And I never doubted my love for you. 

Debbie and Ashley May

Even though you’re missing this Mother’s Day, you’re still my mom. You’re still teaching me. 

You always will. 

Miss you, Mom. 

Love, 

Ashley

Ashley May is a trending editor with USA TODAY. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets