Jackie Gingrich Cushman
August has been a challenging month for my family the last few years. Two years ago, while my children, Maggie and Robert, and I were visiting my sister, Kathy, and her husband, Paul, in Key Biscayne, Florida, our mother ended up in the hospital in critical condition. While she recovered temporarily, she ultimately suffered a stroke right when school started in the fall of 2012.

She spent the next year in a nursing home close to our home in Atlanta. Our whole family visited frequently -- Kathy, Paul, my husband, Jimmy, Maggie, Robert and even our two dogs, Midnight and Bunny. Our cat, Sarah, was relegated to home.

The first months after her stroke were hard; good days involved pushing her bed into the courtyard so she could feel the sun on her face. But she became stronger, started therapy, and was able to come to Thanksgiving and Christmas family celebrations outside the nursing home.

She travelled out to watch the middle school play, and traveled to Georgia Tech to watch Maggie dance in her spring recital. Our last visit out of the home was to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Late June when Robert and Maggie took turns pushing her up the paths to see the spectacular plant statues. She loved them all, but was particularly fond of the hydrangeas.

Last August, while the four of us were once again visiting Kathy and Paul, our mother went into septic shock and was rushed to the hospital. My sister and I flew to her side the next day. A week and a half later, she went to heaven.

The last time I saw her before our trip, Maggie, Robert and I stopped by to say good-bye to her as we left for Florida. She was sad to see us go, but glad that we were spending the time with Kathy and Paul.

"I'll miss you," she said as we said good-bye.

This past year was a year of firsts without Mom. Every first made me stop and pause: my birthday, Christmas, New Year's, her birthday, Jimmy's birthday, Paul's Birthday, Kathy's birthday, Children's birthdays and Mother's Day.

At special events, I both missed and felt her presence, knowing that she would have been there -- Maggie's dance recital, my children performing "Bye-Bye Birdie" in the school play and Robert playing string bass at Carnegie Hall. Every holiday or day of importance reminded me that the year before, my mother was with us. But she no longer was.

The last time I talked to her is etched in my mind. Kathy, Maggie, Robert and I were driving back from dinner. Mom was happy to hear we were together. She laughed and told us to look out for one another. We assured her we would. She laughed again and told us she loved us. We said we loved her, too.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.