From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

I’m Right Here with You, Honey

When I was a girl, if I’d had a difficult school day, my mother would call me into her bedroom shortly after I returned home. She’d be sitting on her bed, patting it and smiling at me until I sat down. She’d offer me a Hershey’s Almond Joy bar from her secret cache (in her bottom-left lingerie drawer) and tell me that when I wanted to talk, she’d be there to listen. “I’m right here with you, Honey,” she’d say.

And she was. Through grade school, high school, college, and into my twenties and thirties. Even when she was dying from ovarian cancer. I remember asking her in a moment of fear, “If there’s a hereafter, will you find a way to stay in touch with me?”

She laughed and said, “What if you go first? I’ll agree if you agree.”

“Okay,” I said, humoring her while still looking for reassurance. “Whoever goes first will contact the one left behind, but without scaring them, like turning on the lights without warning.”

“Fine,” she said. “But if you decide to turn on the lights for me, remember to turn them off before you float out of the room. You know how your father hates it when anyone leaves the lights on.”

Three days after she died, I reflected on that conversation while I sat at my computer, writing in my journal. I smiled as I remembered her wacky sense of humor and then cried knowing I’d never hear her laugh again. My thoughts drifted. The next words I typed were a question, “Where are you, Mom?” As I sat there, the strangest thing happened: I heard my mother’s voice inside my head, and felt her presence as if she were standing right next to me. I was scared, but equally curious, so I typed what she said as fast I could: “I’m right here with you, Honey. We have a book to write together. Whenever you’re ready to write, I’m prepared to help.”

When her voice faded back to my own thoughts, I sat there dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure what to think; overwhelmed, I decided that I just missed her a lot and this was my mind’s way of comforting me.

A year after Mom died, I moved from Milwaukee to San Diego. With the moving and rebuilding of my speaking business on the West Coast, I didn’t write in my journal as often and forgot about the book idea until I woke up from a dream in the middle of a summer night two years later. In the dream, Mom and I were sitting at her kitchen table. She said to me, “It’s time to start writing the book. It will be a book of questions that daughters will ask their mothers to help them know their mothers better and to help them make healthier choices so they don’t end up like me. I will help you write it.” Startled and equally excited by the clarity of her message, I wrote down the dream. As I fell back asleep, I shook my head, thinking how preposterous it all sounded. I’d heard countless stories of how near-impossible it is for an unknown first-time author to find a publisher. Now add to that a real ghostwriter. No one would take me seriously—except my mother!

My first phone call of the morning was from my friend Laurie, whom I hadn’t talked with for quite a while—who also just happened to be a literary agent. What a wild coincidence! I thought. When she asked, “What’s new?” I told her about the dream.

Laurie said, “I think it’s a great idea. I’ve been trying to record my mother’s history with her all summer. I could use that book. If you write the proposal, I’d love to sell it.”

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I was thrilled that Laurie believed in me enough to suggest I write a book, but I wasn’t sure it was a book I could write. My mother wasn’t alive, and I wasn’t even a mother. Who would take me seriously? “Mom!” I cried out in frustration.

“Write the book,” I heard back in my mind.

My mother’s idea continued to nudge me; I continued to question it while encountering a far bigger challenge than writing a book. After my annual fall checkup, my gynecologist told me I had cervical cancer and would need a hysterectomy. I was forty-three years old. I thought about dying. I thought about my mother’s ovarian cancer. I thought about my mother’s hysterectomy when she was only thirty-eight.

Why didn’t I think to ask her about that? Why didn’t we ever talk about it? If only I’d known more . . .

What irony, I thought, I need this book I’m supposed to write!

As I recovered from surgery with no sign of cancer, I felt a new appreciation for my mother and her health challenges that previously I had dismissed—her headaches, her mood swings, her fears about being ill. Now I had them all. I began incorporating my experience and insights into my speaking engagements. Women seemed to identify even more strongly with what I was saying about making healthier choices. I continued to share more memories of love and healing between my mother and me. One story in particular, “Squeeze My Hand and I’ll Tell You That I Love You,” seemed to touch women in a special way. I heard my mother’s voice gently encouraging me, “Write the story down.”

I wrote the story and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. After submitting it, tired of being all talk and little action, I made an agreement with my mother’s spirit and said, “If this story is accepted in Chicken Soup, I’ll write the book you’ve been telling me to write. But if it isn’t accepted, I’m letting this idea go and moving on with my life.” I thought this was a good compromise. I’d been told that Chicken Soup for the Soul books receive thousands of submissions, so I knew the odds were not in my favor; it would take a miracle for my story to be published.

To my great surprise, nine months later, that miracle arrived. On April 11, 1997, while sitting at my office desk, I received a phone call from the Chicken Soup for the Soul office—my story had been accepted! Now, this alone was enough to send chills up and down my spine, but what was even more amazing was when I looked at my calendar. That day, April 11, was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death! I glanced at the framed photo sitting next to my computer of Mom smiling. I realized then that writing “our” book was not an option—it was a calling.

It’s been three years since “Squeeze My Hand and I’ll Tell You That I Love You” was published in Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. Many more challenges, gifts, divine guidance and miracles have arrived, including the publication by a major publisher of our book, My Mother, My Friend: The Ten Most Important Things to Talk About with Your Mother.

I have come to believe that on a spiritual level My Mother, My Friend completes a contract I made with my mother to help me and all women respect, appreciate and trust ourselves and our mothers, and to remember that their guidance is always with us—in life or in death. What a blessing.

Mary Marcdante

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