For as long as I can remember, Mother's Day has been a bit of a struggle for me, trying to find the perfect gift for my mom.

It's not that she didn't appreciate every present I gave her, even the vase I made in third grade from an empty soap bottle covered in crushed egg shells and "painted" in smears of red and blue. It was just that she would never, ever give me a hint as to what she might like.

Instead, I was left to beat my brain into a misery and wander the stores aimlessly, trying to figure out if she'd like a bottle of perfume, a polka-dot blouse or a new set of sheets. While the possibilities seemed endless, the probabilities of her actually having a need for it were finite.

No matter how much I begged ("Please, just tell me what you would like") or threatened ("You'll end up with something completely useless"), she seldom budged. Her Mother's Day, as well as birthday and Christmas mantra, was this: "I'd be happy with just a card."

In October, my mother died after an illness that she probably had had longer than we suspected. She had been acting oddly at times for quite a while, but it wasn't until a seizure landed her in the hospital that we learned she likely had Alzheimer's. Everything changed in a single day and sent us on a journey into a strange and at times perverse world. It wasn't all horrible, but it was seldom easy, not knowing for sure what was going on with my mom, and of course, witnessing her fade away.


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In some ways, it was a metaphor for the gift dilemma. I didn't know what to do to make it better, and she wasn't telling me.

And now I'm facing my first Mother's Day without my mom, and all I can think about is how great it would be to be stressing over finding a present instead of looking at a forever without her. Maybe it's not too late to offer up that card she always wanted.

My mother was not perfect, but she gave me strength, compassion, the ability to recognize right from wrong, a level of smart aleck-ness that is seldom matched, a love of growing things in the dirt, a love of children, the recipe for the Morris Family potato salad and a dislike for discord.

She may have left this world, but the essence of her lives on in her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. I'll always remember how she opened her heart and door to those who asked, and how good she was at spotting the slightest bit of deception.

I'll always love her for the life she made for me, for insisting without saying much about it that education was important and that doing well in school was expected, and for always showing pride in me, even when there wasn't all that much to be proud of.

My favorite memories of my mom are when she was with her mom. She and Grandma would sit up for hours talking, and I would close my eyes and drift off to sleep to the sound of their voices. When I awoke the next morning, a new conversation would have started.

I admired her for her strength after my father's death, and how she never accepted the role of "poor widow" that some tried to foist on her. She carried her grief with dignity and made sure we all knew she was there for us. If I was there for her in her final days, it is because she showed me the way.

If you're one of those daughters stressing about what to get your mother, don't. Just give her a card and hug. Something tells me she'll be happy with that.

Contact Joan Morris at 925-977-8479 or jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com.