When I remember my mother, I remember Galentine’s Day – colorful fizzy cocktails and baskets of butterfingers, old rom-coms and upbeat pop music, commiserating about failed relationships and revealing our latest romantic endeavors.
Galentine’s Day, which began as a fictional holiday in an episode of the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation, is now widely recognized as a day to celebrate platonic love and female friendship. Before my mom died in 2019, we celebrated it together every year. The first time we celebrated was after my parents divorced, when I was in eighth grade. My mom and I got in the car and road-tripped from Los Angeles to Ojai Valley. We spent the evening watching Mamma Mia! and eating a giant pazzouki in cucumber face masks. We were each other’s solid ground as our family crumbled.
It made sense that Galentine’s Day became our day. Right at the time when I was becoming interested in romance, my mom was single again for the first time in 20 years. We quickly became partners in crime – a teen and a middle-aged woman – setting out on parallel journeys to find love. When love didn’t work out, we always had each other – best friends more than mother and daughter.
For us two, the other 364 days of the year just as easily could have been Galentine’s Day. We spent so many nights eating kettle corn and having heart-to-hearts. We’d comfort each other amidst heartbreak and encourage each other in our career pursuits and passions. Our shared interest in romance began as a fun topic to lighten the mood after my parents split and my mom was diagnosed with cancer, but it soon became something much more important to me.
Galentine’s Day has been criticized for being patronizing and sexist. Some articles claim that it is another way of using capitalism to perpetuate the myth of the “sad, single woman” and focusing the conversation back on men. But for my mom and me, Galentine’s always felt empowering. Our conversations around love were always centered around us – our feelings, our wants, our desires. Romantic love was simply a launching pad for us to introspect, reconceptualize our values, and find out what love meant to us.
There was the Galentine’s during my junior year of high school where we blasted Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989, and took the Myers-Briggs tests together. There was the Galentine’s where I drove home from my college dorm in the middle of the night and crawled into my mom’s bed because I was in love with my best friend who didn’t reciprocate the feelings. There was the Galentine’s where she came to my USC apartment and joined the “women empowerment” party I threw for my college friends.
In the fall of 2019, my mom’s blood cancer came back with a vengeance. The days became about logging milligrams of hydrocodone, doxorubicin, and Xanax. I’d watch her press her bony knees together in the hospital cot, terrified and alone. There was suddenly this giant space between us. I was losing pieces of her every day. I couldn’t relate to what she was going through. In her sickness and fear of death, she no longer had the space to receive me. She encouraged me to keep pursuing love and to live my life as a 22-year-old.
One gray November afternoon, before visiting my mom at the hospital, I decided to give this barista I’d been crushing on my phone number. His name was Morgan. He was tall with dark hair and dark eyes. We went on our first date on what I would later learn was the same day as my mother’s last attempt at chemotherapy. Three weeks later, my mom died. It all lined up so strangely—just as my mom was leaving my life, Morgan was entering.
By Galentine’s 2020, my mom was no longer here. Morgan and I were dating. We’ve been together for two and a half years now. On all of the Galentine’s days since my mom passed away, I’ve invited him over, along with all of the other people that I love in my life—my sister, my gal pals, my cousins. This silly, overlooked holiday has come to mean so much to me.
I don’t care about spending Valentine’s day with Morgan. In fact, I don’t even remember what we’ve done for Valentine’s day the past two years. But I need him there on Galentine’s Day – a day where my mother’s spirit feels most alive. He never got to meet my mom, so it’s important to me to sprinkle in little bits of her wherever I can – watching football on Sundays, baking her famous peanut butter cookies, putting little sticky notes of inspiration around the house, like she did.
I look back on all of those Galentine’s days that she and I spent together. They were never really about the craft cocktails and chocolate candies. They weren’t even about the romantic love that we often analyzed for hours on end. Galentine’s Day was her teaching me what love looks like – spending uninterrupted quality time together, being present with those you care for, receiving someone in their depths of sorrow and making them feel loved and supported through their pain.
This Galentine’s Day, my apartment will smell of my mom’s cookies. I’ll turn on one of the movies that we loved to watch together – 13 Going on 30 or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I hope that the room will be full of boisterous laughter and deep conversation. Maybe the golden California light will stream through the windows.
I’ll remember all of the times that she mended my broken hearts and all of the times that we shared our deepest fears and desires without our guards up. I’ll remember the way that she loved me – honestly, fiercely, and unconditionally. That is the way I aspire to love others. If I understand how to love and hold those closest to me dear, surely it is because of her.
Top Photo by Zoe on Unsplash
Middle photo Uby Yanes via Unsplash
Bottom photo Hannah Busing via Unsplash