Spring is one of my favourite seasons.
In Vancouver, where Grown Here Farms is based, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, visually stunning with their pale pinks against a striking blue sky. It’s a welcome change from the colder, wetter months of March, where the city is drenched in rain and the cold bites into your bones.
So, when the sun comes out and warms my face, on that first full day of Spring, I am always grateful. Grateful for sun, spring, warmth, and new life: flower blooms, hatchlings, and a fresh start.
But this Spring is different. This Spring, I am practicing gratitude for different reasons. Because this will be the first Spring without my mom.
Last September, my mom, Joni, lost her battle to ALS. For those unfamiliar, ALS is a disease that causes the death of neurons which control voluntary muscles. There is no known cure. It’s a death sentence that paralyzes those in its clutches but leaves their cognitive functions unaffected, meaning you’re aware, but unable to move. The average survival onset after diagnosis is 2-4 years. My mom had less than a year – she died at 59.
It’s been a difficult year without her. I don’t think anything or anyone – expert, book, or movie – can adequately prepare you for losing a parent. Death is a part of life that is inevitable, but when it happens to you, when you lose someone as important and crucial to the fabric of your making as your mom, the person responsible for your entire existence, there is a shift in your world. Suddenly, some things aren’t as important and other things are.
And what I became aware of this year was the importance of time.
We always hear that life is short. But it never felt truer to me than this year. Losing a parent so young changes your perspective on time. Because time is all we have. A day, a moment, a second. We spend so much of our time focusing on what we want, what we don’t have, things we feel we deserve that have been denied us, that we forget to look up and see that we have everything we need in that present moment.
This Mother’s Day, I don’t get the gift of time with my mom. But I do get the opportunity to practice gratitude for the time I did have with her. I also have the ability to continue giving in her name.
After she died, I spent time with family, friends, but also a time alone, wondering, as I’m sure most people do, how best to heal and live in a world without my mom. It was the end of October. I was sitting on my couch thinking about how in just one month, it would be the holidays. And then it hit me.
Every Christmas, my mom had a tradition of making and gifting all of my family with her famous homemade pepper jelly. It was my favourite thing about Christmas; so much so that I could never make my jar last past January – it was that good.
As I was thinking about how Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year without my mom’s pepper jelly, I realized that right in front of me was an opportunity to carry on my mother’s memory, one small jar a time.
Having never made it before, I had Bruno (her husband, my stepfather) dig out her recipe for me and I spent a weekend making a dozen batches – (thank you for making it with me Trisha and dealing with the house smelling like vinegar for weeks!) – sampled it with a few friends and multiple bottles of wine, and what began as a what if turned into a possibility. Here was my mom: her careful handwriting on the recipe card, the jelly stains on the corners, her hands that had creased the edges. What better way to continue her memory than in giving a gift, the same gift she made for her family ever year?
Fast forward to today, where, after months trial and error, taste test after taste test, we are finally getting our full line of not one, but FOUR amazing preserves to store shelves this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day.
What began with Joni’s Habanero Pepper Jelly turned into a full range of beautiful gourmet preserves: Raspberry Cardamom, Blueberry Lemon Thyme, and Strawberry White Balsamic Black Pepper. All small batch, handmade, and inspired from my mom’s loving hands.
Each of these preserves carries a wide range of flavour profiles that are as unique and complex from the first to last, but all of them carry a special significance: for every preserve you purchase, portions of proceeds will go to the ALS Society of BC in honour of my mom, Joni. If you would like to try them, here is a list of stores that currently carry the line.
The holidays are different when you spend them with people you carry a special bond with. I can’t spend this Sunday with my mom, but just because my mom isn’t here doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate her. It just means I celebrate her in a different way: by honoring her memory.
And as I have learned how to navigate my life without my mom, I look back on these memories with love, not bitterness that I have no more time with her (well maybe just a little). And instead of being sad (most of the time), I choose gratitude (the majority of the time). Gratitude that I had a mom who taught me invaluable skills. A mom who helped shape me, who raised me to be strong, resilient, and believe that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to – launching this line of preserves is just one small example.
This has been one of the wildest years of my life. And I have missed having my biggest cheerleader and friend to confide in, talk to, and laugh with. But losing her doesn’t mean I lost the 37 years we had together. Grieving does not negate gratitude. Sorrow does not discount joy. This spring is different without my mom, but I am no less grateful. After all, she was the first person to teach me to always say “thank you” to begin with. And that is what I will do this Mother’s Day. Be grateful for the time I had with her. Grateful for those that knew her and loved her. And spend time reflecting on and tending to those memories, confiding in, talking to, and laughing with people that I love who also loved Joni.