“I’ll always be with you.”

“Love Always, Mother,” was the way my mother signed off all of her letters to me over a span of 40 years. It became so familiar that I hardly paid much attention to it. I was so used to it that when she shifted to using “always” in a different context I began to wonder about her messages surrounding the word “always.”

The shift came when she was diagnosed with cancer. She still signed off her letters the same way, but she began speaking the phrase “I’ll always be with you” as well. Cancer signaled that my mother was going to die sooner than she and I had anticipated. She was young and so was I…there was still life to be lived together. Yet that life was cut short with the reminders of what my mother wanted me to know about what it meant when she said “I’ll always be with you.”

You might be thinking that she made sure those remaining years were filled with good times to reflect on after she was gone. And there were a measure of those, but they are not the ones that have caused me to capture the “always” my mother left in my heart.

Cancer is an ugly disease. No one knew that better than my mother. She was a fighter, and she allowed me in on her fight. It is the messages of her fight that have kept her close to me.

“I’ll always be with you”…It was a summer day when I went home to go shopping with my mom. We visited all our favorites stores, admiring the new fashions. We talked with old friends, laughed and ate lunch together…just like old times. It wasn’t until we got home that she became ill. You see the morphine had worn off, she had an allergic reaction to it and the vomiting began. As I held her head over the toilet and wiped her face with a cool damp towel, I realized that this moment with her would “always” be in my heart.

The combination of the goodness and the grief set in as I joined her in the vulnerability and the sacrifice she had allowed me to be a part of with her.

“I’ll always be with you”…It was the day she opened her dresser drawer to show me the outfit she wanted to be buried in. It was the one she had knitted with her own hands. It was a glorious shade of pink like the roses growing in her garden. Her red-rimmed eyes bore into mine as she relayed this message until she knew I got it. I could barely breathe as I held that moment of courage in a place that is reserved only for her.

“I’ll always be with you”…I sat by her bed as she was dying and watched her fingers pantomime knit one, pearl two over and over again. She was in a place of remembering as she was transitioning out of this world into the next. I loved being there with her even in the agony of what was to come. I was a part of ushering her along into the kingdom of God. This was her way of entering into the kingdom where He will always be with her.

“I’ll always be with you”…My mother has certainly been with me in the 30 years since her death. I understand more clearly today what she meant by those words. They resonate deeply as I spend time with my children and grandchildren. For now the good moments are plentiful. For that I am grateful. And I know that a shift is coming down the road. When? I don’t know. Yet I wonder what “always” I will leave behind? Will I have the courage and vulnerability to invite others into my weakest moment of transition? Only God knows…


MJMary Jane Hamilton has grown to love her sense of style and her peaceful lake living. Mother of 2 and grandmother of 6, she has a wonderful capacity to love and is still active as The Tooth Fairy. She is extremely fond of her dachshunds, who rarely venture from her lap, and enjoys biking with her husband of 44 years. She is rekindling her writing skills and finding it life giving.
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