This is a mother’s love. This is a daughter’s love.

operating room © liz gumbinnerI spent the day in the hospital with my mother yesterday. I haven’t been able to write about it because the fear of the possibilities was too great to process, too much emotional weight to bear. I am not nearly prepared for the distinct possibility that my mother is, in fact, mortal. Actually I’m fairly certain that somewhere along the way, I was promised that she isn’t.

We sat in a favorite coffee shop over fancy sandwiches and hot tea one month ago, and I knew from the badly-disguised urgency of her tone an hour before on the phone, that this was something important. My body went numb, of course, when she told me. It often does when you hear the word cancer, in any context at all.

I took comfort in the fact that the doctor didn’t feel the need to rush her into surgery; I replayed this fact over and over every day for the last several weeks.

Today, I am delighted, relieved, thrilled, overwhelmed beyond any adjectives I have to describe it, to learn that what could have been a very big something is a big nothing at all; with little more than a narrow scar to show for the surgery. Well, that and a semi-shell-shocked family, grateful that we once again have the ability to exhale fully.

I’m also stunned that it took my stepfather until now to have a good reason to learn to text on those newfangled phone thingies. He sent four. We’re proud of him.

The strange thing is, sitting in the waiting room for hours with he and my brother, all we could think about was her–whether she’d be okay, what it would mean for her, how we simply aren’t ready for our strong matriarch to show a single example of fragility. This is a woman who, at 70, can bench press me under the table, wrangle four granddaughters at once, and reinvent herself with an entirely new career. “You’re not going anywhere,” I reassured her many times.

It was clear how I felt. But it wasn’t until yesterday, at discharge, that I saw something entirely new from her perspective.

While we were saying good bye, squeezing her knee under the hospital sheets, making jokes about the extra-vivid fuchsia streak in her white hair, I stayed to have a brief moment alone with her by her bedside.

I expected a thank you and a goodbye.

“I’m so glad I have more time to see you blossom, flourish, grow,” she said softly, through the fading narcotic haze.

I squeezed her hand back–so hard–and saved the stinging tears until my back was turned and the elevator doors in my sight.


Isn’t that the very definition of a mother’s love? That even your middle-aged daughter is someone you still see as growing–and you don’t want to miss a moment of it? Even now? Even all these years later, after the memories of maternity gowns, baby booties and nighttime feedings are such distant memories they hardly seem real at all?

Isn’t that what we all hope for as we grow older and our children become the adults we hope they’ll be?

If I can offer one suggestion: Hug your parents today. If you can’t hug your parents, call them and tell them you love them. If I have any regrets 40 years from now about my relationships with my family (and no doubt I will), at least it will not be that I never told them that I loved them. Every chance I could get.

Those words–those amazing twelve words. I will have them in my heart forever.

And the best part is, now I get to continue to watch her continue to flourish and bloom and grow too.


50 thoughts on “This is a mother’s love. This is a daughter’s love.”

  1. Ooh.. I am so glad she’s okay. Thanks for morning cry! Yes, nothing is as important as saying I love you. I’m glad I consider my mom a best friend, and I appreciate parents SO much.
    Hugs, Liz!

  2. This is so beautiful Liz. I’m glad your mom is okay. Oof indeed. Also, I’m still trying to convince my dad to embrace texting.

  3. I know these worries and thoughts all too well. I’m grateful every day that I still have both my parents in the world. There have been several points in the past few years where if you’d asked me to predict if that would be true today I wouldn’t have been sure.

    I’m often haunted by the quote, “It is a fearsome thing to love what death can touch.”

    Thank you for sharing the good news about your own mother’s health. Sending good thoughts her way, and hope you don’t have to deal with any such worries again for a very long time.

    1. Thank you, and EVERYONE for all the kind words and great thoughts. It’s comforting beyond belief.

  4. So relieved and happy that she is doing well and that it turned out to be completely treatable. Of course your mom is going to say something profound, perfectly on point and insightful even under a druggy haze. She is fierce, and brilliant. Like her daughter. Much love to her and your whole family.

  5. Liz, I’m so very relieved to hear your amazing Mom is okay. She is such a dynamic, loving mom, and I feel so lucky to get to read your post, your love letter to her and all that she is to you. Her words to you will live on in my heart too – I hope so much that my daughters will get to hear similar expressions of love from me when they are middle aged.

    I’ve been through those weeks of terror and waiting, and am so very glad it’s over for you. With all the snow blanketing our world today, I hope you can hide out, rest and catch your breath in the most relaxing, soul-refreshing way you can think of.

  6. I’m so glad she’s ok, Liz. There are few things more unsettling than when time turns the tables and we have to worry about our parents. Hugs to you all.

  7. I’m so glad your mom is going to be ok. I did this exact moment with my mom once – when I was 18…. and her words at the time still stick with me. It is amazing how they hold us together even in the toughest of moments. Delighted she will be there for many more granddaughter wranglings and to continue to watch you grow.

  8. So beautiful. I love your mother too and know how important she is to your family. I’m so happy to hear that her surgery went well! And, as it seems to run in your family, she has a way with words.

    I’m not sure if you feel this way, but I find myself feeling maternity TOWARD my mother as she ages. She is 70 this year and can probably bench press me under the table too (I know she can beat me at aqua aerobics), but I find myself calling to check on her, asking her if she needs anything, worrying when she doesn’t answer the phone. I know someday I may be sitting by her bedside stroking her hair and listening to her breathe as she used to do when I had the flu.

    1. And so, we are welcomed into middle age…

      Your mom is awesome too Christina. I liked talking to her this week! Even if accidental.

  9. Amazing, isn’t it, how shell-shocked we all can be by these things? Being sad, of course, makes sense. But, unfailingly, we are shocked – SHOCKED – that someone we love can die. Regardless of the fact that we know we are all immortal, death is simply unthinkable.

    So glad your mom is okay!

  10. So glad to hear your mom will be okay. What a gift she is. Also what Mrs. Q said about the unsettling turning of the tables and worrying about our parents.

  11. I’m sitting at my desk a crying mess. I’m so happy your Mom is doing well.

    And isn’t it wonderful that there is nothing like a Mother’s heart. Nothing…

  12. I’m so glad she is OK, What an amazing thing to be able to experience a mothers love like that! Even when you a clearly full grown 🙂

  13. Many years ago, it took my father’s stroke to jumpstart my family into outward, verbal expression of Love. Now, years and years later, I tell my kids every day – sometimes even in the middle of being grumpy with them – that I love them and adore them and want them around me.

    You and your family are so very lucky to have such an open and outwardly loving relationship. And, though it may not feel that way, you are lucky to have reminders of how amazing those relationships are.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post.

  14. I will be sending this to Marcia. Glad your heart is a little lighter now that the BIG worry is over. I have been thinking of you lots. You use your writing in such a beautifully cathartic way.

  15. Liz, I thought I pulled through this pretty well…..until I read your Blog and it all came pouring out….thank you, I needed that.

  16. Thank you so much for that post. My dad is going through treatment right now and this struck a real chord in my heart. I am so pleased your Mum is going to be ok.

      1. There is a lump in my throat as I read your beautiful words. Your mom is my best friend and I am so relieved and happy that she is going to be fine. Thank you Liz for your expression of love.

  17. Love all the circles life makes and so glad things went well. I enjoy your perspective on life so much!

  18. I lost my father last New Years Eve. He’d been a month in the hospital. It was awful to see my big strong dad an elderly man in a bed that probably wasn’t going to get any better. No matter how many years we are blessed with it all passes too fast. Glad your mother is okay. Her comment was beautiful.

  19. I too believe my parents to be immortal even though somewhere deep my head tells me otherwise. Is this good for us? Self preserving? And do our kids feel the same? And is it best for them to always feel this way? Ohh….you have got me thinking. So glad that your mother is well.

  20. Oh the tears, Liz. Beautifully written, as usual. I’m so glad she’s ok… Thank you for the words and perspective,

  21. This is so, so lovely. Needless to say I was sharing your anxiety and burst into tears when Chris called….. Whew!

  22. This post was a tough one for me because I am very close with my mom and she does have cancer and is undergoing chemo as I write this. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over 2 years ago and I thought I’d be saying good-bye soon after that. But, my mom is a fighter and had surgery and chemo and even took a month long trip to Australia with my dad last year. She’s still here and fighting and smiling and being the bravest person I know. I’m seeing her tomorrow to celebrate 2 family birthdays and you can be sure I’m going to give her a big hug as I always do.

    1. Thank you for sharing that Emily. I’m so glad she’s fighting and you get more time together. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow.

      1. Thanks so much…and I forgot to say earlier, so glad your mom is doing well!! Saw my mom earlier and she looked great. She’s my hero, for sure.

  23. I am so happy for you and your family! It feels good to be able to breathe again, doesn’t it? My mom (72) was diagnosed with breast cancer over the holidays and it threw my family into crisis — she is the glue that holds our extended clan together. We learned several lessons about fear, trust and truth that Christmas — but through it all, my mother handled her illness with grace, humor and determination. She took a photo of her aunt, who just turned 101, to every appointment and gave a copy to every doctor, telling them that this woman was her role model and it was their job to make sure she had a chance to emulate her. She had a mastectomy and we just found out that she will NOT need radiation or chemo! She’s back on track to making her goal! I never want to be that scared again –but my mom and I are closer than ever. She is my rock, my inspiration and my best friend. Aren’t we both just the luckiest daughters ever, Liz?!?! 🙂

  24. I’m so right there with you in denying my parents’ mortality. They’re going strong in their mid-seventies, but I’m thinking of ways to immortalize them for my kids. I don’t want them to be such distant memories like my grandparents are to me.

    Also, my mom says stuff like that to my sisters and me, and my dad kind of… intimates it. Sometimes they’re the only ones who still see us “blossoming.” It’s the best.

  25. I JUST saw this now and I’m so very very glad she’s ok. Sigh, it’s hard to be a grownup sometimes, isn’t it?

  26. “I’m so glad I have more time to see you blossom,
    flourish, grow,”

    I got goosebumps so bad they almost hurt. I think this is the most wonderful and beautiful story ive read in such a long time. Thank you so much for sharing!

    PS. My mommy told me the same secret. About her immortality. Im gonna keep on living with that in mind. But im also gonna give her twice as many hugs and kisses. And tell her how much she means to me. Just in case. 😉

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