It took me back. The poor kid had just been through hell. We all had. Cancer. It had just come knocking on our door. It came like a thief in the night announcing its arrival in mid-June, crippling her by July, and stealing her away in September. My mom, my best friend, my everything. The youngest grandparent. The one full of life. The one who was always there. The one who never missed their games, concerts, awards, or big life moments. She was the Hippie Grandma with the free-spirit and the rebel heart, and we loved her for it. She was our biggest cheerleader. She was our rock, and now she was gone. Just like that. It was difficult for me to process. It was impossible for the kids.
We were all still reeling from that when Jackson fell on the playground at school and broke his elbow. It was Halloween. Jackson had always been tougher than nails. This was his third break and he handled it better than anyone. No tears. Super brave. We were told it would be an easy recovery. It wasn't.
Days later they said he would need surgery to reattach the tip of the elbow. Being back in the hospital with him so soon after my mom died was tough on me. Jackson had a field day. He treated it like a learning experience, asking questions and taking it all in. Surgery went well. There was some pain but he was happy to be on the mend. After surgery, he had to be recast. He was prepared for a normal cast, but his new cast was gigantic. It ran the length of his arm and it was so big and thick it weighed down the whole side of his body. It wore him down.
One night he told me that something felt wrong under his cast. I made a doctor's appointment for the very next day. Everyone, including the doctor, thought I was being over the top when I asked for the cast to be removed so we could check. Believe me, this was one time I didn't want to be right, but unfortunately, I was.
When they removed the cast they noticed something strange. The wrapping under the cast was adhered to his arm. Sealed onto his skin. We weren't prepared for that, or for what happened next. Little by little, they peeled the wrapping off his skin. Through tear-filled eyes, Jackson yelled, "stop, stop...you're peeling my skin off." When they finally removed the last of the wrapping it took our breath away. His whole arm was raw. Jackson had been right. Something was wrong under his cast. It was a staph infection.
For about one full week, his arm was so raw it literally stuck to everything. It was either hold your arm up in the air or let it rest and get stuck. He was miserable. The arm couldn't be cast, but still needed protection, so he was unable to attend school and had to be on homebound. Eventually, the antibiotics cleared the staph infection and the arm healed enough to wear a sling. After a few weeks, the break was considered healed. Except...now he couldn't bend his arm.
So here we are. Sitting in the physical therapy room and for the first time in his life, Jackson is looking at me wild-eyed and full of panic.
I was deeply tired of being strong and my mind started to race. I had simply had it. I wanted my mom. I needed my mom. I wished she were here with us. I wished she was sitting across from us right now. What would she say? What would she do? How would she make it better? Then it hit me. Like a ton of bricks.
Tears came to my eyes and a shiver shot down my spine. After months I could finally put it into words. What I had been missing all these months and what I was wishing I could see at that moment was my mom's smile. The smile that reassured every fear. The smile that says I am here, and because I am here, everything is going to be okay. The smile she reserved only for me, and then later for my kids. The best gift you could ever receive, a mother's smile.
I closed my eyes for a second to envision it. Why was my mind still racing? Why did it all come down to her smile? Because her smile was more powerful than words. It said everything. It was everything and now I was robbed of that. It was at that moment I knew that her smile would be the one thing I would miss the most for the rest of my life. It resulted in a terrible feeling of despair that burned in the pit of my stomach. I wish no one had to know that pain.
This in itself was a powerful moment, but what happened next was even more so. I started to feel angry thinking about how my mom was taken so soon, at 64. One month away from retirement and so many things she wanted to do. Then I thought about my dad's mom, my Grandma, who died from cancer at 56. Then suddenly, again like a ton of bricks, I'm 42. What if I am like them? What if I only have 10 or 20 years? Oh no, I thought. What about my kids? Oh, my goodness...one day they will be sitting somewhere, just like I am, missing me and wishing I was there with them. One day they will feel this same pain, this horrible aching feeling. An emptiness like no other.
The light came on. It was as if my mom was cheering me on again (and boy oh boy....if you knew her at all then you know she really and truly was cheering me on, even from heaven) saying "come on, Kim, you've got this" and it dawned on me. One of the most profound moments I've ever had. She was telling me that it was my turn to give the gift of a mother's smile. It was as if I could hear her say "I didn't want to leave. I fought as hard as I could because I wanted to be there for you and the kids more than anything. Please do this for me. Give the gift of a mother's smile to my grandchildren. Give this gift as often as you can because there will come a day when you will be gone too. Use the time you have left wisely. It is a blessing."
The shivers came again. It was a moment I'll never forget. It gave me clarity and with that came peace. My mom could no longer smile at me, or hold my hand, or walk into the room for a chat. She could no longer do these things, but I could. For now, I had the blessing of time and I could do all the things she no longer could. I could do this for her. I could do this for my kids.
Ironically enough, my mom used to always say when things get tough you "gotta get a plan." When I was stressed or worried she would say "well, let's get together a plan." Funny enough it works. Getting a plan is always the hard part. Putting the plan into action is the easy part. This newfound clarity was the only plan I needed. I had been worried I was going to have to figure it all out on my own, but she still played a part in helping me put a plan together. I imagine she always will.
It may sound like all of this took a long time, but these thoughts raced through my mind in a matter of minutes. I had been in such deep thought I forgot where I was. I looked up at Jackson and he was still looking at me all wild-eyed. His face was twisted up in worry and I'm sure he was wondering what they were going to do to him, and if it was going to hurt.
I suddenly knew what to do. I looked at him and I smiled real big. A smile that said it all. I was filled with emotion. I watched as his face relaxed and I could tell he was comforted. He smiled back real big and said "why do you have tears in your eyes?" I answered him with "I'm just so happy to be here with you. Everything is going to be fine." It was the first time I actually believed everything would be fine. This moment had given me the peace I was looking for. I could feel the numbness that surrounded me start to melt away. I had a plan now.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss my mom. I wish I could pick up the phone and call her. I'd love to hear her voice, her advice, and her loud laugh. I'd give anything to see her walk in the door again. I miss all of that.
But, that smile. Oh, my goodness. It took all this time for me to realize that my mom's smile was the most beautiful gift I ever received. It held the power of the greatest love, a mother's love. It is the one thing I hold closest to my heart now and it still does it's job. I still see it when I close my eyes and it still gives comfort. It still says it all.
This powerful moment saved me. I am at peace now. I don't know if I have 10 years, or 20. Maybe I'll be blessed with even more. What I do know is that I'm going to live them well, and with purpose. I am going to make the most of my life and be the best mother while I can. I hope you are inspired to do the same.
I wrote this as one last Mother's Day gift to my mom. I know somewhere she is smiling down on me saying "this was the best gift of all." I hope that it is. I hope that one day my kids read it and are inspired to put it to use for themselves. I hope they pass it down in honor of my mom. I hope they tell their kids that her beautiful smile was the inspiration for this.
While I wrote this for my mom, I'm going way out of my comfort zone to share this for all mothers. Please do yourself, and your children, a favor and give the gift of a mother's smile as often as you can. It doesn't matter if your child is 6 or 66. Watch the look on your child's face. Know that your smile holds an amazing power and although it is sad, know that one day you will be gone, and the memory of your smile will carry your child through. It is more powerful than words. It is the most beautiful gift you can give. I know because my mom taught me that.