A Birthday Wish to My Mother

“Sheila you have cancer” my dad shouts to my mother,  from the bottom of the stairs in our old house.  It was May of 1991 and in that brief moment in time, my life as I knew it had changed forever…..

There are quintessential times in your life, that no matter how much time has passed, it still feels like it was yesterday.  You can remember exactly where you were and how you felt the first time you heard it.  It might be something global such as, when the planes crashed into the world trade center on Sept 11, or the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting in December 2012.  Or it might be something more personal.  For me, that was when my mother was diagnosed with terminal Ovarian Cancer.

my mother circa 69



My mother, Sheila Popowitz Rubackin, was born on March 3, 1946 in the Bronx, NY.  She would have been 70 years old today, but sadly we can’t celebrate this birthday with her, like so many times before, that have come and gone.  The last one we were able to celebrate with her was her 49th birthday.

I was only twenty four years old when she passed away, and sometimes it feels like it only happened an hour ago, while other times I feel like I’ve lived a hundred lifetimes since seeing her face.  The face that looks so similar to my own.

I find myself thinking about her so much lately.  In October I will be the same age as she was when she found out she had terminal cancer.  I want to know what went through her mind when she was diagnosed.  There are so many questions I want to ask her now, and so many things I want to tell her.

I wish my mother could have hugged me tight when my heart was broken, in the comforting way that only a mother can.   She missed so many milestones of my life.  She was not at my graduation from podiatry school when I became a full fledged podiatrist.  She will never hear a patient call me doctor.  She never saw me as a blushing bride, or pregnant.  And she never met the loves of my life, my husband and my two children.


I long to have more of my mother than the yellowing old pictures and the tiny, fleeting memories of family vacations long ago.  The trips to California to see family, and how proud she was when she was around all her nieces and nephews.  Her laugh, that oh so funny and contagious laugh.  People who knew her say I have that same laugh.  The laugh that is so unique.  I am so glad to have that special part of her come through  whenever I am happy.

I wonder what my mother would have thought of my own mothering skills.  What words of wisdom  would have instilled upon me about motherhood.   I wonder what other life lessons I’m missing out on that other women receive from their mothers.  I wonder what type of relationship we would have now that I am an adult.  Would I call her everyday?

Of course, I wish I could have said goodbye, and given her one last big hug before she had to go. I wish my mother’s life could have ended in peace with out suffering.  But like so many people who die of cancer, at the end  her body was so ravaged that her final days were filled with suffering and pain.


I just hope that wherever she is now, still probably singing out of key to one of her favorite Billy Joel songs, or finding some great bargains.  I hope she’s happy and not in any pain.   And most of all,  I hope she is smiling knowing that both of her girls will take her wherever they go.  And that in both of her  grandsons there is a little bit of her.

Happy Birthday Mom, I will love you forever.


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16 thoughts on “A Birthday Wish to My Mother

  1. I lost my father to cancer nearly five years ago, and I can relate so much to everything you’ve said here. Since I never think there’s an expiration date on expressing sympathy, I am sorry for your loss. The loss of a parent is continuous through every major life event and sometimes I don’t believe it does get “better.” I believe, as you do, that they are happy and free from pain wherever they are now and that they are watching over us. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Erin, you are totally right about expiration dates, they do not exist when it comes to loss. I think time just soften the memories but the pain will always be there, it has to be because we are all human

  2. Oh, this breaks my heart. I’m not very close with my own mother for personal reasons, but I know I’m still lucky to have her. As a mom, my biggest fear is to not be there to watch my children grow up and have kids of their own. My husband lost his father when he was 16 to prostate cancer, and although he doesn’t talk about, I know that he wonders what his father would think of our son and that his own relationship with his father is a heavy influence in how he raises our son(s). But just like your own mother, I like to think that he’s watching over us and our kids, smiling because he’s proud of the job my husband is doing.

    1. Thanks Morgan, So many people have been touched by cancer, and its so not fair to everyone. If there is anything I could wish for, is for a break through in cancer research

  3. Hi, Nicole. Tammy forwarded your very touching thoughts about Sheila on this special day. Your mom and I were good friends since I was 5 years old. I did think of her this morning way before I read your column. I’d love to get in touch with you and share some of my insights into this wonderful woman.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. I understand the void I lost my Dad before I was 20. It’s so hard when you have those big milestones…
    If only we had one more moment. I think that all the time.
    Karen recently posted…Buckle Up!My Profile

  5. Nicole, this is a beautiful post and a remarkable tribute to your mother. Anniversaries can be haunting and painful at once. Maybe she will visit you in a dream and let you know she’s still with you. (((((Nicole)))))
    Tracey @Tracey’s Getting Fit recently posted…FOCUSMy Profile

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