Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from mom, and she immediately said, “Sammy, do not weep when I die. Be happy. Be happy when I die. When I die, I’ll be with Jesus. Be happy when I die, as happy as you’ve made me while I’m alive.”

Do not weep when I die is a Ghanaian idiom. Mom has given me instructions about what I need to do for our family if she passes away. This isn’t one of them. Mom isn’t telling me I shouldn’t mourn her death when she passes away. She knows I adore her. She knows she’s precious to me. She knows that would be the worst day of my life. She knows I’m closer to her today than when I was in her womb. Mom knows that, and that’s why she shared the idiom.

The idiom is a deep expression of gratitude to a loved one. Mom tells me it means she’ll die a happy woman because of how I’ve honoured her. When mom said do not weep when I die, she was referencing something she shared with me when I interviewed her for Mother’s Day.

Ma, you’ve been an extraordinary mother to me. How can I become an extraordinary son to you? 

You are already an extraordinary son because you have been encouraging me when I need it. You provide, support, and protect me. When I cry, you cry. When I laugh, you laugh. You always try to make me happier.”

That says much more about mom’s character than mine. I am not an extraordinary son. But extraordinary mother’s like mom graciously receive ordinary things from their children as extraordinary gifts.

When I sit at the dining table for a conversation with mom, she reacts like I’ve taken her to a high-end restaurant. When I watch Family Feud with mom, she reacts like I’ve bought her tickets to a Steve Harvey stand-up show. And when I give mom three-hundred dollars, she reacts like I’ve given her three-million dollars.

Mom expresses extraordinary gratitude for ordinary gifts. Mom shared the idiom with me two weeks ago because the day earlier, my brother and I cleaned the entire house―and I surprised her with an early birthday gift. It isn’t an extraordinary gift. It’s just a chest freezer. But it’s something she’s always wanted.

I’m glad she likes the gift. But the freezer was just one surprise to throw her off from a bigger surprise. And though she looks decades younger than she really is, tomorrow is mom’s sixtieth birthday.

Mom was born in a mudhouse in Ghana, and our family―mom, myself, and my younger siblings―lived in a women’s shelter in Montreal and Toronto after my stepfather assaulted her. Then we lived in government housing for almost a decade before we purchased our own home.

And perhaps because of mom’s experiences in less than ideal housing, she’s always been fascinated with mansions and high-end, five-star hotels, especially the Trump Hotel. So my younger siblings and I have put money together and reserved a room for mom to stay at the Trump Hotel (The St. Regis Toronto) for the weekend.

We are ordinary children to an extraordinary mother. Mom says she’ll die a happy mother. I pray that God would give her another sixty years. And I pray that God would give me at least another sixty years too, so I would continue to live as a happy son.