Any gift my mom gave me growing up was thoughtful and came with a beautiful handwritten card—something that mattered and that I would always cherish. My mom, Cathy, has always been like that. She’s always taking care of other people, putting others needs before her own. I’m not sure that she has a day to herself during the week. If it’s not taking care of one of her own kids, it’s taking care of their kids, going to work, helping at the church. She doesn’t get a break.

This year I knew it was time to give my mom a gift she really deserved: a really great destination trip to Greece. I found a great deal on flights and booked our Airbnbs, tacking on a few more days in Paris at the end. When Christmas came, I gave my mom a dictionary of Greek phrases. She was really confused and didn’t know what was going on. That’s when I told her that I have booked us this trip, and she could barely believe it.

For eight days we wandered streets, met wonderful people, enjoyed delicious food and saw the most beautiful sights. I love art and history, and my mom is a very devout Catholic and loves churches and architecture. We stayed in a great little neighborhood in Athens and visited the Acropolis and Parthenon there, and then in Santorini we made our temporary home in an incredible cave house in the town of Oia with the best sunset view

I was quite worried that by the end of the first few days we would be at each other’s throats because our similarities can create tension. But we came out of this trip closer than ever. She really is my best friend. She understands that not every day will be a good day with me even in a beautiful place on a relaxing vacation. She lets me have my bad days. She is always there for me, and she loves with the deepest love that you could ever know.

With the recent burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, I’ve been really reflecting on this trip and my mom and I seeing Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and Sacre Coeur. Just as it’s not guaranteed that these beautiful iconic places and buildings will be around forever, there’s no guarantee that any of us will be either. While my peers and I are busy starting our own adult lives, we often forget that as we get older our parents are getting older too. I’m realizing we can’t take this time for granted. I only hope that my mom knows how much she means to me and how much I love her. 

Mary’s mom and dad raised her and her three older sisters in Vestavia Hills and continue to call it home.