79: A Pink Dress and a Promise

79: A Pink Dress and a Promise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

A Pink Dress and a Promise

I miss thee, my Mother! Thy image is still
The deepest impressed on my heart.

~Eliza Cook

I was sixteen and more than anything else in the world I wanted my mother to attend my high school graduation the following year. She was suffering from ovarian cancer, and although the expressions on the faces of other family members didn’t offer much hope, I firmly believed she would recover and be there.

My mother and I had always enjoyed a special bond, perhaps because I’d been her only child for the first thirteen years of her married life. We shared a passionate love of books and reading. She’d read to me every day until I learned to master the skill myself. Afterwards she continued to share my love of stories by enthusing over my attempts at authorship. An amateur actress, she appeared in numerous local theatre productions. I grew up attending rehearsals and on opening night I was able to mouth every one of her lines.

I especially recall a small party held for the cast and crew one evening after a performance. My mother had bought a new pink dress for the occasion. In my six-year-old eyes, she looked like an angel.

When I was fourteen, my brother was born. Ten months later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. At first I didn’t worry. After all, she was my mother. She’d never die and leave me. But as one year stretched to two and she grew thinner and often despondent due to heavy medication, I began to worry.

Two weeks before Christmas the year I was sixteen her condition worsened. I tried to deny the despair I saw in my father’s face as we sat by her hospital bed. To strengthen the reality of her recovery I talked to her of the future, a future we’d share.

“And when you come to my graduation, will you wear your pink dress?” I asked her as she lay weak and thin on December 9th.

“Oh, honey, I don’t know.” She forced a thin smile. “That old thing? Really?”

“Yes, yes, please promise.”

“All right, if that’s what you really want… I promise.” The words were barely above a whisper.

An hour later she passed away.

Somehow I forced myself through the next year and a half of school. My father had drifted away in his own world of grief and my aunt who came to take care of my two-year-old brother had no time for me. When graduation finally rolled around, both declined to attend.

As I sat on the platform with the other graduates, I felt hollow and utterly alone. I’d believed my mother would get well, I’d believed she’d be there for this milestone in my life. No one could possibly feel as bereft of happiness as I did at that moment.

Then the principal was announcing the prize for literature, for outstanding work in creative writing and the student on my right was prodding me. “You won, you won!” she hissed.

Stunned, I remained seated. And then I saw her. Standing at the back right hand corner of the auditorium, my mother was clapping with more vehemence than she’d taught me was ladylike. She was wearing the pink dress.

I stood and made my way to the podium to collect my award, all but staggering under the overwhelming sense of joy. She’d come. She’d promised and she’d come. And she was wearing the pink dress. The moments fluttered wildly in my heart, a beautiful butterfly of joy. In a cloud of happiness so intense I could barely control my movements, I returned to my seat. But when I looked at the back right hand corner of the room she was gone.

Later as I walked home alone in the soft, warm darkness of the spring evening, my award and diploma clasped in my hand, my attitude changed and anger suffused me. Why had she come only for an instant? Why couldn’t she have stayed?

I sat down on a park bench by the river and stared at the calm water, and slowly understanding came. She couldn’t always be with me, not anymore, but she would be there when I needed her most. She’d kept her promise. She’d come to my graduation and she’d worn the pink dress.

~Gail MacMillan

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