Dear Mom:

I am sorry I can’t be with you this weekend. Normally, Mother’s Day weekend is the perfect time to head home — a time to visit with you and Dad, catch up on local talk and news (which, lately, seems to center on who died), help Dad with his latest puzzle (although I don’t have the attention span that the other girls do, so I usually am not much help besides putting together the really obvious things, like signs that read “Country Inn,” or baskets of puppies). Oh, and of course, we will eat, because planning, cooking and eating meals is to the Swifts what conquering Europe was to Napoleon.

But this year is different. Different for most of us, I suspect. I won’t be able to come home and eat your waffles and caramel rolls. Won’t be able to spread out in one of your perfectly made beds (amazing how much more comfortable sleeping is if your sheets aren’t twisted into an angry pretzel). Won’t be sent home with bags of homemade buns or jars of honey that you get from the beekeeper on our land.

It’s especially hard because you are sick, and so every visit seems to count. You won’t be able to show me how well your hair is growing in after the chemo (still straight, unfortunately, not curly as you always wanted) or the clever little hacks you do to save precious energy when you’re cooking or cleaning house. You no longer have the constant flow of strangers checking in and out of the house, as they did during your bed-and-breakfast days.

It was always interesting to meet the latest guest staying at Mom and Dad’s house. One week, it would be a retired doctor and his wife cycling across the United States. The next, it might be a Russian professor who is writing a book on the state of capitalism, a construction worker for one of western North Dakota’s many new wind farms, or one of my former schoolmates, home for the weekend to visit a parent in the nursing home. It was never boring.

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The house is much quieter these days, although people still check in on you. Your friends, Ron and Rosemary, stop by, and Rosemary even made a cake for your May Day birthday. My oldest sister has such a busy life, but she always finds time to stop by. My brother has impressed us all with his diligence. He drives from Bismarck every weekend to visit you guys. He helps mow lawn, fix pipes and do whatever else needs to be done. He will stop by, even if he has to wear a mask and gloves or just wave from outside the window. I wish I didn’t live four hours away so I could do the same.

Even so, we will find a way to connect. By now, the flowers will be delivered: bright pink roses and exuberant lilies in a pink, glass vase. That’s a gift from all of us. But most importantly, we will connect via Zoom or House Party or one of the other crazy apps that have had to substitute for personal connection these days. We may even successfully play “Wheel of Fortune” or that drawing game that expects the players to guess that those stick men holding a squash and a watermelon are supposed to represent a rock band.

It won’t be quite the same. Even so, I am grateful that we even have the technology that allows us to stay in touch. Without that, it would be even harder. I will see you tonight, along with the rest of us, each sitting in boxes like a perpetual "Brady Bunch" opener. Not together, but still connected — because we couldn’t love you more even if we were sitting right beside you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.