By Jocelyn Duff

On this Mother’s Day and others passed, I’ve often thought about what it means to be a mother. What is that defining moment? Is it bringing your child into the world, triumphing over pain and nine long months of increasing discomfort and sacrifice? For so many Moms this day is stolen from them, in the wake of an unexpected diagnosis that brings with it fear and sadness. It was the first of many days of a long journey—perhaps it was even the most difficult of days, until they knew their child could go home, or until the sharp corners of uncertainty and grief had softened just enough to be able to think about tomorrow.

Is the defining moment of Mom-hood much further off into the future? Graduation from high school or college? My own memory of these days is one of unsettled questioning –a sense of loneliness and great expectations heaped upon me, without a strong rudder to guide me through. I’m sure I gave off no sense of a confident departure into adulthood to my own mother.

Are the proverbial “apron strings” cut when a mother hands off her child into marriage? Is this what we hope for our children? To love and be so loved by another that they branch out to start a new life, perhaps even to start a new generation?

For many Moms some or all of these milestones may not be possible. For some it is enough to make it through another Mother’s Day with her child. For others only a memory of the sweet, sweaty smell of their child’s head, or the sound of a child’s laughter is all that is left. A day full of pink, flowery cards, sugary sentiment and celebration is also a day of mourning and loss.

I remember coming home from infusions late one evening, helping Talia to get out of the back seat when she could still scoot and shimmy her body around. I helped her to stand and started to walk her toward the house, when she suddenly stopped, holding her arms out wide and declared, “Mom, look up at the stars! They’re so beautiful, Mom!” And then she looked up at me, sighed and said, “I love myself, Mom!” I bent over, nuzzling her little head, tears streaming down my face. I fell gently backward, her weak, little body landing softly upon mine and I held on to her so tightly.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” she said.

“Nothing, Tal. Nothing at all,” I replied, rocking gently with her in the dark night, oblivious to the hard ground beneath us.

Is this not our greatest wish for all of our children? And even for ourselves? To have a sense of self so true and bold that we can cry out to the world, “I love myself, World!” To have achieved such a milestone at so young an age is remarkable to me. I do not think I have achieved this yet myself. And yet, in my role as a mother it feels even weightier that I played some small part in helping my daughter to discover this. I do not think my influence was great. I think it is something innate in Talia. In spite of all of Life’s challenges. Or, perhaps because of them. Or perhaps just because she is Talia.