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The Gifts You Gave Me

    From the very moment you were born, you were the joy of my life. I will always remember the first time I held you: how my heart swelled with happiness, how the world I had known dissolved away and you became its new center. I saw something in your eyes that I didn’t know existed, that gave a new meaning to my life of which I’d never dreamed. Your gaze held mine, so steady, so innocent. We thought they would be green like mine and your father’s, but your eyes remained the pale blue of a summer sky, as pure as your beautiful soul.
    Some people spend decades on this Earth and never acquire the depth of kindness and compassion that you were born with. You never ceased to inspire me. I still think back on that day when the other boys called you cruel names and wouldn’t let you play kickball with them because you weren’t able to run fast enough.
    Your eyes glistened with tears, but you simply said, “Maybe it’s because somebody was mean to them too.”
    My heart ached for you as I hugged you tight to me. That’s what happens when you love someone with every piece of you. Your heart is exposed, vulnerable to the torment of every misfortune they suffer.
    When we first found out, my heart was ripped out altogether. I couldn’t eat. My dreams were haunted by an aching emptiness that I couldn’t name, that choked me with its icy fingers until I woke sobbing in my husband’s arms. I left the bedroom to bake the cake for your sixth birthday party, but it required every ounce of my strength to hold myself together as I lit the last candle and watched you blow out the tiny flames. There were just six.
    Only six.
     I didn’t leave the bedroom again for days.
     It was that time when the leaves are still pale green, and the golden spring sunlight seeps through them like honey as they unfurl for the first time. The air, laden with birdsong and the fragrance of new blossoms, stirred within me a bitter resentment at the fact that life everywhere was flourishing, when mine had stopped dead. Your father told you I wasn’t feeling well. So you went outside gathering all the flowers you could find: tiny bluets and bright yellow sprigs of forsythia blossoms, violets and sweet-smelling daffodils. Nearly an hour you spent, searching the yard for the flowers you thought I would love the most.
     You carried the vivid bouquet to me and, holding it out, said, “Please don’t be sad anymore, Mommy.”
     I took you in my arms and held you close so you wouldn’t see the silent tears streaming down my cheeks. Tears of joy, of grief, of admiration for you and your selflessness. I arranged the flowers in a vase and poured in fresh water each day, trying to keep them alive for as long as I could. But weeks passed, and slowly they withered and died.
     As I kneel by your casket, I remember the first time I held you. As I gazed into your eyes I had been unable to imagine all the joy you would bring me, and all the ways in which you would inspire me to be a better person. In the midst of the sea of grief consuming me, I feel a glimmer of gratitude to have had the chance to be your mother. I hold in my hand a wilted violet -- one of the last gifts you gave me before the cancer spread throughout your body, one of the many things I couldn’t save.






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