A few months ago, I was admitted to a club I would have preferred not to join.  There is no secret handshake, and no initiation ritual.  Its membership is far bigger than you might imagine.  And once you are admitted, you remain a member for the rest of your life.

I keep bumping into fellow members everywhere I turn.  When I called a midwest cookie company to order a gift recently, the telephone salesperson told me that, "Part of my training is to imagine what I am going to say to my own mother when I present her with a box of cookies, but my mom died when I was 16, over twenty years ago." 

How does she deal with this situation year after year?  “For the first few years, a question like that would have made me cry out loud, but now I just see her in my mind’s eye and try to get through the training.”

Another friend lost her mom a few years ago, and even though she herself has been a mother for 21 years, she still thinks of her mom when the seasonal ads start to play.

The oddest thing about the five months since my mom died is that somehow the world has realigned itself and kept on going.  Dad moved in with my brother.  A memorial service was held.  Possessions were distributed.  A fund in her name was set up at the local library.

Mom never saw the big tsunami that hit South Asia last Christmas, and missed her granddaughter’s wonderful dance recital last February.  Every Sunday I have had things to tell her during our usual weekly conversations, but her phone number is no longer on my speed dial.

If I close my eyes, I can see my grandmother Ritsu’s burial in 1985 as if it were yesterday.  Her daughters and grandchildren gathered at the Cypress Hills cemetery plot in Queens where my grandpa Misao had been buried over twenty years before.  I can still feel the cool wind inside the hole that had been dug to house her cremated remains as I knelt down, hunched my shoulders, and lowered them in up to my left shoulder.

The difference between that passing and my mom’s was that Grandma Ritsu, from my vantage point, had started out life as an older person. While I had many good times with her and mourned her when she was gone, her death was understandable and, in a way, to be expected.  Besides, I had Mom there to give me cues as to how to behave and how to process the transition. 

This time, Dad was there to lead the mourners, yet my siblings and I had to worry about his emotional and physical endurance as much as we had to care for our own.  Dad was part of a Mom-Dad diad that had existed since the day I was born, so to see him alone was a raw reminder that someone was missing.

When Mom passed away last November 28th at age 79, she was still in good health and still had big plans.  She and Dad had sold their home in suburban New Jersey and were ready to buy a home near my brother in San Diego.  She had just finished making turkey bone soup after a big family Thanksgiving dinner, and collapsed suddenly the following morning. 

Dad and my brother Paul called an hour later with the news.  I can’t remember the details, but I know that we had the awkward conversation that no one is every fully prepared for.  My wife heard my reaction from the next room, and came to my side immediately.  When I hung up the phone, she held me, in silence, through those first volcanic moments.

Five months after Mom’s death, winter has come and gone.  This season’s crop of fragile pink cherry blossoms fluttered through two weeks of unseasonably warm breezes, then drifted down into shifting piles of pink and white along the streets and byways of the Tidal Basin.

Friends told me to prepare for the three hardest days during the year after a mother dies:  her birthday, any holiday where we regularly convened as a family, and Mother’s Day.

Well, Mother’s Day has finally arrived, and the sign near the greeting card rack in the drugstore just reminded me again not forget Mother on her special day.

As if I could.  

NOTE:  Here is an earlier piece I wrote that tells more about my mom's life, if you are interested: