Pushing a cart through the grocery store recently, I spotted a large Mother's Day card display. Sadly, I realized this will be my first Mother's Day without my mom. Memories of past Mother's Days flooded my mind.

Each year I would search for the perfect card and decide whether to send flowers or a gift. Sometimes I'd fly out and surprise her. None of these choices exist today.

Thoughts of Mom invariably turn to reflection on the people who contributed to my upbringing. When I was young, my Aunt Pauline was always there for me. My mother and I had a volatile relationship for years. I started running away from home when I was 6 or 7 years old.

Aunt Pauline lived seven blocks from us on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her arms welcomed me. Food was offered. Kindness was on her face and in her actions. She was the dearest person in my life until she died from diabetes many years ago.

Remembering Aunt Pauline, I thought about how people make us feel protected and cared for. Does the fact that a woman gives birth make her a mother? I don't think so. My parenting skills lacked patience, tolerance and kindness. Fortunately, there were other women around who nurtured my two girls better than I could.

Life changed for me and my daughters when I stopped drinking, but they were in their 20s by that time. Our relationships improved over the years. Today I feel like a mother, filled with devotion, love and compassion for my daughters.

Two years after I became sober, I met my husband, Tom. In many ways his affection and kindheartedness taught me to be a better person. Through his gentleness and multitudes of conversations about life, I matured, becoming able to handle situations as an adult, better equipped to act and feel maternal.

Ironically, once I attained emotional adulthood, women entered my life that I've been able to comfort. These women require encouragement. They crave someone to talk to honestly, and they need someone who worries about them. In this way, I heal their wounds of the past, while tending to my own pain.

Neither of my daughters is close by, so I won't be having them over for a celebration. I know I will hear from them as well as several other women in my life who take an interest in my well-being. In turn, I will contact women who mean a lot to me.

This Mother's Day, I will light a candle for my mom, who did the best she could with what she had. In many ways she was a devoted mother battling her own demons.

After Mom died, something happened to convince me she really cherished me. A couple of months after she passed away, the family sent me some of her things. Included in the package was a diary she kept for an entire year of my childhood about how much sleep I got, how much I coughed, what I ate each day. It appears she wrote this information down for a doctor. I was a sickly child and she spent many hours ministering to me, taking me to an endless stream of doctors in her effort to make me well.

I read the entire journal and was surprised that it was so clinical. No complaints about being up with me all night, no lamentations. Just facts. Although she makes no reference to her feelings, her tedious bookkeeping bears witness to the anguish she experienced about my illness.

If this wasn't mother love, I can't imagine what is.

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