Motherhood Mondays: One Last Mother’s Day

Motherlode, a parenting blog, featured a touching essay last week, written by a woman whose best friend was dying. Her friend Lisa had just found out she had inoperable Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would die soon, leaving behind her young son and daughter. She wrote an email to her friend saying, “We will tell the children tomorrow and a bomb will go off in our family….”

The essay was heartbreaking–can you imagine?–but one beautiful insight from the essay stayed with me.

“If you are the mom, you have to keep raising your children, whatever that means. Your job is to prepare them for the road ahead, and suddenly, that road had changed. There are lunches, homework, chores–the usual–against the new backdrop of the surreal: soon I’ll be dead. If you are the mom, and you are dying, there is just no handbook…

One thing I learned: the relationship remains, and no matter what happens next, the mother is always the Mom. Mom, Always. That was something Lisa really wanted to hear…Also, to me, Mom, Always sounds like Love, Always. Which is all any of us can hope to leave behind.”

I thought that was so beautiful.

(Photo by Elliott Erwitt)

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  2. Thank you. Having watched my mother die in similar circumstances, and having been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer when my children were five, this resonates on so many levels. I think every mother worries at times about what would happen if she wasn’t there for her children – thankfully people like Jody exist to help those facing the unimaginable navigate such a heart-breaking sorrow.

  3. That was very nice. I just lost my mother a week ago. We both had chronic terminal illness, hers was just much more advanced than mine. I am a mother of six with my youngest daughter being seven. I have decided to tell my close relatives and friends my fate since my mother’s passing. It appears I have some time left but the disease will inevitably take me. I have to start taking more steps to prolong my time here with my beautiful family as my mother’s fate has opened my eyes that sweeping it under the carpet will not make it go away, in fact, it could very well bring it on sooner than I would like. Thank you for the beautiful insight. I needed that right now.

  4. Anonymous says...

    Thank you for this post – it made me cry. And it will stay with me for a long, long time. Thanks for the reminder to make the most of each day with our children.


  5. Thank you for sharing this, Joanna.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve forwarded the Moms, Always link (mentioned in the Motherlode essay) to a friend who has Stage 4 lung cancer and is mom to a 10 year old. I’m glad there are resources for her as she has found little support from her husband in this regard.

  7. that is beautiful but also incredible sad and impossible to think about. i just had to stop reading the essay, it broke my heart… thanks for sharing joanna…

  8. This was so touching and sadly beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I can’t imagine what either the mother or those kids are going through.

  9. Beautifule essay and a hearbreaking story. It’s so hard to lose your mother, but it’s much harder to live knowing you’ll die soon and you’ll live your family and children. It’s great that there is this site for those who are ill and that they can find all the answers there.

  10. hide? Sorry, didn’t know where that came from. Obviously, I meant “had”…

  11. What a wonderful quote, Joanna. I’m so thankful for my mama, although we hide quite a rollercoaster of times in my teens and early twenties. But the older I get, the more I appreciate her for being such a strong and caring and loving woman.

  12. It´s so sad, I got really teary reading this…
    Two days ago a friend told me that a friend of hers just died, 36 years old, leaving 2 young children and a husband behind. I can´t begin to imagine the heartbreak something like this can cause.

  13. Anonymous says...

    This is beautiful and heart-breaking. The friend’s reply, “I will walk with you, whatever this path is.” was wonderful and what a tribute to create the website Mom,Always.

  14. it really was a touching essay. it reminds me to really enjoy every day. not just mother’s day. mine was spent with my own mother and with my children, all together. we’ll enjoy every moment we have. i’m especially touched by that mother’s grace in handling the situation she was dealt. what strength!

    thanks for sharing this.

  15. Thanks Joanna. I pinned the site should I or a friend ever need it. (I pray not!) But, how important!!! Maybe you would want to add an edit to your post and add the site the essay writer created, called “Mother, Always”?

  16. Jessica says...

    What a touching essay. The quote you provided about mom always being mom also points to the fact that mom’s have a role that will stick with children forever. Everything that is taught, experienced, shared by mom matters. So this is a great read for anyone who is or plans to be a mother to someone in the future.

  17. My aunt is dying of stage 4 breast cancer and this will likely be her last mothers day. She helped raise me the first years of my life and this resonates more than anything I’ve read recently as I try to cope with impending loss. Thank you.

  18. Cathg1g2 says...

    Thank you for sharing this.
    As a palliative care nurse (in Australia), it’s always nice to draw on different resources and have them available to clients and their families. You just never know when you will walk that path or need to guide or hold someone’s hand.

  19. This is so heartbreaking. My friend passed away at 28 leaving behind her then two year old son. She died on a rock climbing trip so it was very sudden. I often think about how great it was for her to have a baby right after getting married. I think about him too and how he is growing up without his mommy. It’ll be the same for these children. It’s so tough. Especially in this situation where she has time to reflect on it all.

  20. Since becoming a mother this has been my greatest fear and can actually bring on full-blown panic attack when I think about it happening to me and my children. I girl I knew died a few years ago from an aggressive cancer. She was only very young and was a single mom to her daughter then aged 10. It left such a lasting impression and I think about her often. I am not sure that I would be so brave if I were in this situation. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story.

  21. When I read the essay, all I could think was, “Hold on. Hold on tight.” It’s so easy to get frustrated by things that don’t matter, especially when children are involved. A pair of toddlers throwing tantrums in the park yesterday, for example. Did they not get the memo that it was Mother’s Day? (Answer: They did not. : )

    As I popped on your blog for a quick look, they were running around the kitchen island screaming happily like a couple of wild little monkeys. It’s easily something that one could find exasperating – the noise was mind-numbing – but after reading that essay, their happy screams sounded like music. Life is short and childhood is even shorter. The essay was a good reminder to enjoy it. You never know what is coming down the road.

    P.S. I am deleting a previous comment because of typos. (That’s what I get for trying to type while entertaining my children!)

  22. So very sad. A mom has to be strong for her children even when facing tragedy. I love this: “the relationship remains, and no matter what happens next, the mother is always the Mom. Mom, Always.” So true. xo

  23. What a tragically beautiful essay. A thoughtful & lovely sentiment. Mom, Always truly does seem like Love, Always.

  24. This is so lovely, thank you for sharing. I just survived my first Mother’s Day without my Mom. Thank God for my babies. I just wrote a post about one of the last conversations I had with my Mom, when my baby said good-bye to her, and how she was still being a Mom to me… Mothers are incredible. And love is always present, it’s palpable.
    Happy Mother’s Day to you, Joanna!

  25. This is absolutely heartbreaking. Just reading the quotes made me tear up. It’s as beautiful as it is sad. Thank you for sharing.

  26. the essay made me cry. I dont’ want to think about what that would be like. or even type what “that” means.

  27. So stunning – thank you for sharing. Now, if I can just stop with the tears already.

  28. So touching. Thank you for sharing with us.

  29. So touching, Jo, especially on this first Mother’s Day without my mom. The thought that keeps coming to me over and over again in this new chapter of my life without her : “I love you present tense.” It’s scary to think of her as only a memory, but my love for her still feels current, and I know it always will. And likewise, her love for me will never be a thing of the past. True and loving motherhood is eternal.

    Thank you for sharing.

  30. what an amazing photo! beautiful

    very touching and sad story…

  31. It’s an amazing essay, I lost my mother when I was 22 years old and I truly belive every word of it.
    Thank you Joanna.

  32. Nan says...

    This is why Cup of Jo is so special — this amazing range and depth of things you share here with everybody. This topic is achingly sad but sharing this important network is a way to spread supportive community as far as possible.

  33. Nan says...

    This is why Cup of Jo is so special — this amazing range and depth of things you share here with everybody. This topic is achingly sad but sharing this important network is a way to spread supportive community as far as possible.

  34. Beautiful essay. After reading it, I went to MomAlways and read every expert’s interview. I lost my Dad 20 years ago and my Mum a year and a half ago. Although I am in my 40’s, happily married with 2 wonderful children, I sometimes feel like an adult orphan.

  35. Such a devestatingly beautiful message; my mother helped a dear famil friend through the same thing 3 years ago. She left behind 2 beautiful daughters & a granddaughter. The words of this article are so true!

    Chelsea (

  36. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful post. My mom recently lost her best friend to cancer. Although her children were older (in their 20s), I think my mom could very easily empathize with Jody Becker’s article. Not sure if I should pass it along to her, in case it’s too much.

  37. “..the usual-against the new backdrop of the surreal: soon I’ll be dead.” Wow! What an eye-opener.

  38. Heartbreaking, could almost not read it…But it was good.

  39. ….And now i am crying at my desk.

  40. LC Taylor says...

    That was so heart-breaking and touching. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a child to lose his or her mother – even an adult child – or for a mother to lose a child. I don’t think anyone ever truly gets over that sort of thing. But I’ve never really thought of it from the other perspective before… Being the one who is going to die must be harder still.

  41. Kristin R. says...

    My sister in law passed away last Monday after a very short battle with cancer. She leaves behind three young children, all wanting/needing answers. This post is so timely for me, since the website it links to can be a resource for her husband. Thank you for sharing! Thank you!!!

  42. Oy, tears.

    My grandmother has had Parkinson’s for many years now, and in the past few years has been in a noticeable decline. There have been a few times when I felt really frustrated with my mother for not being more proactive in dealing with all the problems this has entailed. It wasn’t until one day when we were speaking about Grandmama and her general confusion, and my mom got really choked up and just said “It’s just really hard. She’s still my Mama.” I suddenly had a new tenderness towards her handling of things. Yes, she is failing and none of us denies that. But remembering that she is my mother’s Mama, first and foremost, makes it easier to see why some decisions are so hard to make. No matter how old we are, the thought of losing one’s mother is one of the most difficult.

  43. Always is always. That’s true – a motherless 34-year-old daughter, who lost her mom 6 years ago. And if it comforts the writer of the blog, the road continues after her passing away. I’ll keep thinkin’ of the writer, wish her to be brave and strong!

  44. beatiful yet heartbreaking indeed

    motherhood comes in all shapes and sizes, there is no clear direction except to love our children unconditionally

  45. Thank you for sharing. Another reason to love your mother everday and always.

  46. This resonated so strongly with me.

    My mother was diagnosed with incurable bone marrow cancer when I was 8 and my brother was 6. She always told me that her job in this world was to get us “launched”. After my brother had been accepted to college (13 years later), she declined quickly and passed away. Her intense maternal need to see us into adulthood bought her so much more time than any clinical trial could, or did.

    Motherhood is a powerful thing, indeed.

  47. Anonymous says...

    oh, so sad and timely too. A close friend of ours was just diagnosed with cancer this week, with 2 little boys the same ages as ours. We had a beautiful mother’s day though with them – and copied your menu from last week’s brunch (which was totally amazing – thanks!)

  48. Marni says...

    Yesterday was the first time in 27 years that I celebrated mothers day without my mom. She passed away in September after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. Even though she is no longer with me physically, I feel her presence and influence within me always. Sometimes it’s the way I speak with my husband, or the way I run into tables that “came out of nowhere” ( she was a huge klutz- like mother, like daughter!) but she is always with me.
    Mothers are truly amazing people. Mine certainly was <3

  49. Amy says...

    Thank you for posting this. I lost my mom four years ago (I was 29, so it was obviously a much different situation than the one described here), but this reminds me of a note that someone wrote to me then that said something like “you will make it through this because her love will give your strength” — and I’m not sure if the writer meant it this way, but suddenly I was able to envision my mom’s love as something separate from herself, something that didn’t go anywhere, and it was such a gift to suddenly have that change in perspective.

  50. Incredibly heartbreaking and so very sad! xo

  51. So sad… I cannot imagine how that mom would feel… Gosh… I just have to remember to be thankful for each day i have with my baby boy..l

  52. How heartbraking. I read a pre-Mother’s day post about a mother who lost her baby, and it discussed whether she is still a mother while she has no other children.

    Once a mother, always mother. Always.