The rectangular cardboard box on the top shelf of the closet was held together by a pastel blue ribbon. Time and moisture had caused the glue on two corners of the box’s cover to disintegrate in the decades it had rested in the dark, waiting to be discovered or reclaimed.
In her eightieth year, she asked me to grab the step ladder. She stood at the bottom steadying it while I climbed up to get the box that had been pushed to the back of the shelf. I handed it to her and she walked over to the bed. Sitting down, she carefully untied the frayed ribbon and spread the contents of the box on the bed.
There were just three items wrapped in tissue paper. First, a tiny white baptismal gown. Next, a plastic hospital ID bracelet. And finally, an infant’s cap, knit from fine baby blue yarn. She held each item in her hands, turning the cap over and examining the stitches.
And then she said, “These were the baby’s. This is what I kept.”
He was named after his grandfather, but would not live to see his first birthday. She would somehow survive the unimaginable and live out her days welcoming the sons of others. First, grandsons. Then great-grandsons, too, who would help to fill up the empty places and make her smile in her old age. She never took the birth of a healthy baby for granted. She never took being a mother for granted, either.
I am among the most fortunate of mothers because I only know what it feels like to gain a child, not lose one. This weekend is Mother’s Day and like many of you, I will be celebrating the fact that I am a mom. But I am only a mother because of two other mothers. Strong, brave, self-less women I never met. Mothers with grief boxes of their own. One tied up in blue ribbon, and one tied in pink.
And they are never far from my heart.
Because their children call me Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day.