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The Last Salad My Mom Would Ever Make Me

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On the night of Thursday, October 13, my mom filled up my gigantic water bottle and made my salad for the next day.

salad and a water bottle in the fridge

Hours later, she woke me up because she was experiencing her usual severe middle-of-the-night pain — pain so bad it often made her weep and unable to get up from her chair or bed. Hours after that, we called an ambulance, and I called out of work. I didn’t get a chance to eat the salad — the last salad my mom would make me.

Months ago after a series of health complications (followed by medication changes), my mom starting keeping a meticulous food diary and eating healthier.  She lost 25 pounds. She spoke frequently with a nutritionist at her doctor’s office.  She was so proud, and I was so proud of her. Her lunch every day became a salad.  I am a notorious picky and terrible eater, so my mom’s face lit up when I asked what was in her daily salad. The ingredients were all things I happened to like. She was borderline ecstatic. My schedule was getting more and more chaotic, so more than ever she wanted me to eat better. She asked if she made me a salad would I eat it. “Yeah, sure,” I shrugged. She didn’t have to make it for me, though, I told her. But Mom insisted on making my salad and filling up my water bottle every day. She insisted I buy a lunch bag, and she would pack it for me every night. I laughed and said it was so not necessary, that I’m not a child. But we both knew how much I’d had to help her for so long, so I figured it was something she wanted to do for me because of that. “You do so much for me,” she said, “and it’s one of the only ‘mom’ things left I can do for you, so please let me. It would make me so happy to be able to do that for you.”

Looking back on that, I wish I had told her that was one of the sweetest things she’d ever said to me. I didn’t sob in the moment (like I’m doing now), but I did smile and told her of course she could but that she shouldn’t fell obligated to do it. I spent a lot of time helping her out and taking care of her. My paying job consists of taking care of people, too. I had lost sight of what it was like to have (and allow) someone to take care of me. And her choice of words — that it was one of the few mom things left she could do for me — were both beautiful and heartbreaking.

No lie, I loved those salads. And with the weird hours I work, they became more of breakfast than lunch. My mom and I had our share of passive-aggressive moments the past few years where we pissed each other off and we (more often she) would shut down and ignore each other. The one thing that never stopped, though, even just a few weeks before she passed, when I had hurt her so much, was her making me my salad (and asking me where my gigantic water bottle was so she could wash it and fill it). She loved making it for me, and I loved what it meant to her and also that it was a much-needed reminder that it’s OK for some people to take care of me sometimes, too. But, I mean, come on… it’s just a salad. And yet, when I saw it in the fridge the week she was in the ICU, it was the hardest I’d cried outside of the hospital. There was the salad and the water bottle I was supposed to have that Friday. There was the most “mom” thing I had allowed her to do — and that she was able to do — for years. I sobbed and gasped for air and yelled. And in a moment of excruciating pain, all I wanted to do was tell her how much those seemingly silly salads meant to me.

I took the picture above today. It’s been three weeks, and I can’t bring myself to throw out the last salad she made for me. Luckily, between what’s in the salad and the power of a Gladware lid, it doesn’t smell bad. I was so proud of myself that I was able to clean out the fridge and freezer (99.99% of what was in there was hers — I eat at work or on-the-go, if you will)… but I dread the day I’ll bring myself to throw out that salad.

So tomorrow I go back to work. Tonight was a night I have dreaded for two weeks because I knew what I had to do. I knew what my mom would want me to do. I had to make my own salad.

I had everything delivered by Peapod, in her honor. I obviously could’ve driven to Stop-N-Shop myself, but my mom’s love for Peapod is legendary at this point.  And using the last salad she made me as a guide for the ingredients and layers, I made my own salad. I sobbed. I had to stop at times because I was crying so hard, but I made my own salad. I made my mom’s salad… for myself. My mother, my mom, is smiling. She’s also making fun of me for forgetting to order celery and chicken.

I don’t want to make my own salads. I don’t want to fill my own water bottles. I want my mom. But in the hospital I spoke to her and I whispered in her ear promising her many, many times. I promised I would be OK, that I would take care of myself. So I made that fucking salad. And for dinner at work tomorrow I’ll have no choice but to have a healthy, balanced dinner. The last salad will stay there for a while. But tonight, it has a buddy. It’s definitely not as good as the one on the left, but I think wherever she is, my mom would be insulted if it was. After all, she did make it, and she is the mom.

two salads in the fridge with a water bottle

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Originally published: December 12, 2017
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