When my mom passed away thirty one years ago, she was just 49 years old. That’s how old I am now.

It’s a lifetime ago, and yet at times it feels like it was just yesterday.

Sometimes I can almost recall the sound of Mom’s voice… there was a time when I could just close my eyes and easily hear her voice, recall her words, and even picture Mom perched on the stairs, smiling down at me, listening as I played piano.

But as time marches on, we lose some of these memories that used to give us comfort. I used to find this very upsetting, but lately I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s all part of God’s plan because while memories can be comforting and full of joy, when we have lost a loved one, memories can also keep us stuck.

This year, as the season of missing Mom approached, I realized that I was the same age that Mom was when she died; that my oldest daughter was turning 18, the age I was on that fateful day; and that my youngest daughter was 14, the age that my little sister had been when we lost my mom. Suddenly I realized how difficult it must have been for Mom to carry the burden of knowing how sick she was, and even realizing that her daughters were going to have to grow up without her.

I carried that with me for awhile, but a funny thing happened right before my daughter Breanna went off to college, on her 18th birthday. She told me she wanted to make me a salad. It sounds crazy, but it was the best salad I’ve had in a really long time for several reasons.

First, watching her make a salad, I realized how much she’s grown up this past year, and I was comforted about her going off to college. Second, seeing how happy she was just making a salad for me showed me that she enjoys doing nice things for others, and she can appreciate the little things in life.

But the real gift came because it had been weighing on me that I wouldn’t be taking her to college, helping her plan, or getting her settled into college life. Perhaps this hit me so hard because these were some of the last things my mom and I did together before she died. Finding our way around campus, shopping in town, setting up my dorm room and going out to dinner in town were some of the last memories I was hanging on to, because they were the most recent and all I had. Or so I thought…

With that salad, so many other long-forgotten memories rushed back: the wonderful, pungent smell of tomatoes on the VINE. Making salads in the kitchen, using the tomatoes and cucumbers we grew in our own backyard, and mixing up our own vinaigrette in the glass carafe that measures out the oil and the vinegar. Adding a teaspoon of sugar to spaghetti sauce, Mom’s little secret when it hadn’t had time to simmer… I also felt the pride and sadness Mom might have felt, watching me as I got ready to fly the coop. (“We give our children two things: roots and wings,” she reminded me, on more than one occasion…)

While the college memories were some of the last memories I have with Mom, they weren’t the best memories. All of a sudden there was a flood of other memories: summers in the cabin, Sunday morning breakfasts, coffee toast, snowmen, family dinners, so many holidays, Irish coffee, chocolate mousse, Yorkshire pudding, and of course, Nana’s burned carrots.

Sometimes we just need a little reminder that we can always find new memories to hold on to, and to find joy in simple things. Like SALAD.

They say grief comes in waves or goes in cycles… I never know what will trigger grief, but I’ve found that each year, the season of missing Mom typically starts at the beginning of summer, and really gets going by her birthday in July. Then there’s the anniversary of her death and a series of family birthdays in October, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, my sister’s birthday, and Easter… For some reason there’s a short lull between Easter and summer (probably because we were always in crazy end of the school year stuff during that time) but to be honest, even after all this time I never know what will trigger grief. I’m thankful for happy memories, but I still find myself missing my mom (and Dad) all the time.