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What Disney means to me on Mother’s Day

in Blizzard Beach, Disney, Disney Springs, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Park Secrets, Theme Parks, Typhoon Lagoon, Walt Disney World

Hey readers, Adam here. This isn’t necessarily my usual article material, but I hope it’s taken for what it’s worth. Which, to me, is everything.

One of my most vivid memories as a child was running into the living room and handing my mom a box of tissues while she was on the phone crying with my father. They had recently been divorced. The next day, we would be at Disney. I remember going to school in Satellite Beach, Florida thinking it was just another day learning boring math problems, and then my mom would whisk me away in her Nissan Pathfinder, trying hard to hide the red around her eyes (she had clearly been crying). About an hour later, we would be at Disney.

There was always a level of escapism and trust that we could put in the hands of Walt Disney World. As annual pass holders, the streets and lands of the Magic Kingdom became familiar. Cinderella’s Castle, an old friend that would greet us whenever we walked down Main Street. We felt more at home there then we did sitting in our living room in front of the TV, pretending our lives (at the time) were not in shambles. Rae McCabe raised me as a single mother, and our reward for maintaining our family for one more day was an escape to the happiest place on earth.

She would always make sure to kick my butt on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, make stupid faces for the camera while we plummeted down Splash Mountain, and held each other close as nighttime fireworks exploded all around us under the stars. It was bliss, and Disney turned our relationship from “mother and son” to “best friends forever” over the course of my childhood. We would leave every day at the parks by turning around, waving goodbye to the magic, and screaming “See ya real soon!”

Everything changed in in 2001 when my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I spent the next twelve years trying to squeeze as much life out of my relationship with her as I possibly could. The thing is, life happens on life’s terms: I graduated college, moved up to New York City for a job, and eventually moved back down to Florida when her hospital visits became more frequent. Meanwhile, my mom was just so full of life that you wouldn’t even imagine she was sick at all. That is, until the last few years of her life when she started to waste away. Chemo took her hair, sapped her energy, and I eventually got “the call”. She only had about two or three months to live, and my nightmares of the last twelve years became manifest. The moment I hung up the phone, I knew there was only one thing I had to do.

We had to escape to Disney. I didn’t care how.

But this time, things were going to be different. Not because I was pushing her around the park in a wheelchair, but because I made sure something special was waiting for her when she got there. Out of the kindness and love of a dear friend who works at the Magic Kingdom, I put a plan into place. And that plan eventually lead to the greatest day of my life.

You see, towards the end of the day, I brought my mother to the barn at the front of Main Street. My mom, very familiar with my affinity for making a spectacle, shot me a look and said “What are you planning, McCabe?” She was eventually ushered inside the barn where a small army of our favorite Disney characters were all waiting for her. She instantly started crying, hoisted herself out of her wheelchair, and proceeded to hug every single one of them.

But that wasn’t the end of the Disney magic. The big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse, then stepped forward as she was attempting to ease herself back into her wheelchair, and handed her a small envelope. Inside was a letter — written and signed by the Mouse himself — containing one single sentence:

“See ya real soon.”

About a month later, my mother was taken to hospice care. I slept in a tiny bed next to her until I woke up one morning, the nurses extending their condolences and telling me that my best friend had passed away. It was Mother’s Day, of all days. To be honest, it just felt like something out of a movie, but I can’t deny that her wicked sense of humor was completely intact until the very end. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.

This Mother’s Day, let the main woman in your life (mom, for the record) know you love her. And not just love her, I mean LOVE her. If you’re a mom, be proud to have created life and hold your children tight. But if you’re a Disney mom, raising Disney kids, you’re something a little different. Your family is something a little different. Not better or worse, just…different. We’re a special breed, and it shows in everything we do, the choices we make, and where we may end up escaping to when real life becomes too much to face alone.

For me, Disney will always be there. Traditions may change, rides may close, and the parks may evolve, but the fact alone that it’s “Disney” will always keep me coming back. Maybe one day, with a family of my own. I will forever be grateful to the cast members at the Magic Kingdom for what they did on my mother’s last trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, and it’s that kind of experience that led me to my job at Inside the Magic. Every time I walk up to that huge castle, she’s there. Whenever I dance like an idiot while traversing the Haunted Mansion, she’s there. Whenever I look up and I’m surrounded by those beautiful sky-flowers during Wishes, she’s there.

Disney, to me, is my mother.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any great mom-oriented memories to share this Mother’s Day, I’d love to hear about them below — and I will read every single one of them. Happy Mother’s Day, everybody.

67 Comments

  1. Tamara

    Great article, Adam! I’m sure your mom was, and continues to be, very proud of you. <3

    1. Adam McCabe

      Thank you so much, Tamara!

  2. Andrea

    Beautiful memories of your mother. I’m sure she is looking down on you with Walt with love in her heart and wavy saying. See you real soon.

    1. Adam McCabe

      Thanks for the love, Andrea!

  3. Janet

    Beautiful tribute to your mom Adam! She must have been an amazing woman to have raised a son like you! You make her proud every day!!

    1. Adam McCabe

      Doing my best, for sure! Thanks for reading, Janet!

  4. Rick

    What a beautiful tribute to your Mom and Disney. How nice that you have her with you whenever you enter the Kingdom. We men and our mom’s. I lost my mom last August so as the first Mother’s Day I really miss her, but thank God we had a relationship like you and your mom, best friends. Thanks for your great article.

    1. Adam McCabe

      “We men and our moms” RIGHT?! Nothing quite like the relationship between a mother and her son, and I’m very sorry for your loss. Thank you for reading, Rick.

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  5. Holly

    Tearing up over this. What a beautiful tribute.

    1. Adam McCabe

      I appreciate that, Holly.

  6. Stephanie

    I love this! I lost my mom 3 1/2 years ago to breast cancer (she was only 51). And every year on the anniversary of her death my husband and I go to Disney to celebrate her life at the happiest place on earth which is exactly the way she would want it!

    1. Adam McCabe

      Sounds like you and your husband are a great pair! I’m glad he can share these kinds of things with you. Have a great one, Stephanie and thanks for reading!

  7. Jo Berry

    Adam, Your story touchs my heart on a number of levels. I have worked at the most Magical Place on Earth for over three decades. What I thought would be a part time job during college has turned into a career that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was working at the Magic Kingdom that fateful day in December when I got the call that my mother had been hospitalized. She wouldn’t recover, and on Christmas Day lost her fight of several years and succumb to kidney failure precipitated by her lifelong struggle with diabetes. She was 46. In the 25 years since, despite the fact that I have more than enough tenure to take the day off, I have most often chosen to work, allowing others to enjoy the time with family and friends, so that I can make Christmas not a day of loss, but rather a day of laughter and joy for other families across all of Walt Disney World.

    In my 32 years with Disney I have had the tremendous honor to facilitate many such experiences as the one you describe. I can only hope that, as my career continues to evolve, I have many more opportunities to bring a little light and joy to families when they need it most. You see, I don’t just work for Disney, I live and breath it. My first visit to the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World was in July of 1972 and since that first magical moment I have never gone more than a few months without visiting and there has never been a time that I haven’t been awed and amazed by the wonders and riches of the Happiest Place on Earth.

    1. Adam McCabe

      Jo, that means just about everything to me. You sound like an incredible person, and thank you for keeping the magic alive!

  8. Anne Whitehead

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to your Mom! My mom was the light of my life as well. She died at age 93, I was so lucky to have her for so long! She wasn’t a Disney girl, but she was a card player, seamstress, vocalist, taught herself the piano, and loved to dance! I was so lucky to have such a talented sweet and loving mother as were you! Happy Mother’s Day to your mom and mine, I’m sure they are dancing together today in heaven!!!!!!!

    1. Adam McCabe

      You were VERY fortunate to have her around for so long. I wish you the absolute best on this day!

  9. Lauren

    Hey Adam-

    Thanks for the article, I’m now in TEARS as I know what you mean when you say being a Disney family means you’re a little bit different. We’ve always been a Disney family since my first trip out to Disneyland when I was 4. Like yourself, my mom is my best friend and we’ve spent the better part of the last 10
    Mothers days at Disney World and love taking the day, just us two. This years a bit different as my mom just went through surgery so my plans for her to join Winnie the Pooh at the Crystal Palace for breakfast changed into me cooking at my apartment instead. Nevertheless, she’s assured me that we’ll go celebrate our normal way as soon as she can. THANK YOU for sharing your heart today with this article.

    1. Adam McCabe

      My pleasure! I’m very glad it resonated with you, Lauren. My best to your Disney family! 🙂

  10. Kim

    This was a beautiful article. Today I’m facing my first mother’s day without my mom. I also have memories of going to Disney with my mom, and think of her when sharing those experiences with my son.

    This article touched my heart. Thank you.

    1. Adam McCabe

      There’s no wrong way to go about it, Kim. It gets easier to deal with every year, though nothing is ever quite the same. Happy Mother’s Day!

  11. Erin

    Thank you so much for this story. I’m sitting here with my Mom/best friend right now and handed her my phone as I tried to contain my sobbing so she could read it. This is exactly the relationship I have with my Mom, from my parents divorcing to the way we feel about Disney. It’s been not only something we share deep feelings over for a variety of reasons, but the memories we’ve made on our Mom and daughter trips will be something I can carry with me for the rest of my life. I am so so sorry for your loss. Just based on this story I can tell you’re an amazing person and son and even though she’s gone she’s looking down on you and smiling.

    1. Adam McCabe

      Thank you for the kind words, Erin. My absolute best to you and your wonderful-sounding mother today!

  12. Chez

    Absolutely perfect. I’m a Disney mom with a Disney family. As I sit here crying, while I watch my sons play Disney infinity 3.0, all I can do is think how lucky I am to have 3 boys who love me to the moon and back. Thank you so much for this article. Disney really is a splendid escape. See ya real soon.

  13. Jeni

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. What a touching tribute to Disney and to your mother, who sounds like she was such an amazing woman. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can completely relate to your feeling that to you, Disney is your mom. I too am a Disney kid with a Disney mom who is also my best friend and the Park is where we still go to escape and find magic. She was a cast member throughout my childhood, so my love of Disney started and continued to grow because of her. She will always be my favorite person to go to the Resort with because to us, it is and always will be so much more than a theme park – when we go, we both see the hope, the magic, the history, and the years of memories. I’m so glad you have a place where you can always go to feel close to her.

  14. Christine

    Such a wonderful tribute to that VERY special lady….Your Mom & my dear friend – I miss her so very much….her magnetic spirit lives on in the beautiful memories…..XOXO

  15. Jane

    Beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul. My little family is a Disney family and my daughter is now a Cast Member at Disneyland Resort. As a matter DLR is where we celebrated Mothers Day.

    1. Jane

      *of fact. Oops!

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  16. Veronica

    That was amazing to read Adam. I never had the privilege of taking my mum to Walt Disney World, as she passed away before I had the financial stability to afford it, as we stay in Scotland, but I have raised my children as Disney lovers and they have the love of Disney that I have. You are very fortunate to have all those wonderful memories of your time there with your mum. I will think of her on my next visit.

  17. Reagan greer

    im sure your mom is proud of you Adam and all you’ve done 🙂

  18. André Filippe

    Wow Adam, what a story ?
    Congratularions on making such a special last visit for your mom at Disney.
    I enjoy reading your posts and now I enjoy the it even more ?

  19. Joanna

    Sorry for your loss.
    I too lost my mom to cancer – it sucks.
    I have many memories of me and my mom at Disney World as adults. I’d never been til I went to college in FL.
    As an adult I took my mom on trips to WDWfor Mother’s Day – she especially loved Epcot’s Flower and Garden Show. It is a tradition I hope to continue with my daughter. My kids are only 2 & 3 but we’ve made 4 trips there so far in their little lives. Yes, Disney families are different 🙂

  20. EricJ

    I’ll join the tributes–My mom didn’t die of cancer (just ALS), but my best memory was when she was disappointed that we had to mind the nephew/nieces at the park while the daughter went to an Orlando convention, and didn’t get the chance to go to WDW by herself for the first time since Epcot opened.
    Since I was up on all the new Internet discounts and could afford it, I surprised mine with a February trip with me as tour guide, and showing her around the Studios and French Quarter for the first time was one of our last great quality-time road trips together. Didn’t know any cast members, though, had to settle for embarrassing her at Adventurer’s Club. 🙂

  21. Beautifully written, Adam. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

  22. Kim

    Touched me to my soul.

  23. Robert

    Wow this is the most incredible story. I’m a guy and to be honest I don’t cry but this article brought me to tears. We live in Canada and we are a Disney family and this article hit home. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Julie

    Wow, such a beautifully written article. Kudos to your Mother!

  25. Ashlee Manley

    Currently typing this between my tears! This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Disney means something different to all of us, but your story is the most incredible. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world!

  26. Abbey

    Oh goodness. I am in tears. What a beautiful tribute to your momma! The surprise you pulled off for her- amazing!!
    The only thing better than Disney as a kid is Disney when you take your own kids. That’s even more magical for me and I know your mom just loved being there with you most of all.
    Peace and comfort to you, this Mother’s Day. ❤️

  27. Michelle

    Such a beautiful thing you did for your mother. My mom passed 2 years ago now and I always go to Disney when I miss her the most. Disney just has that comforting way to make everything just a little more magical even on the toughest of days. I’m sure your mother is looking down on you with a smile, and she must be so proud for sharing your love for her today and with each disney trip you take.

  28. Melanie Csorba

    Beautiful story Adam. I am a Disney mom…my daughter (who posted this article for me) has completed 2 DCP’s and will Be a Disney Professional Intern in one month, and my son is attending college for Animation, are both Disney bound! We consider Disney as magical as you do!! Xo ❤️

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  29. Tawny

    Made me tear up a bit. Thanks for sharing. My mom would take me every other year to Disneyland when i was a kid and loved it always. We may not have a close relationship but she knows I love her. My kids haven’t had the experience yet of Disneyland but it’ll happen someday 🙂 And when that day comes I’m sure I’ll cry because I haven’t been there in over 20years! Haha thanks again for the article <3

  30. Susan

    Wow…disney has so many memories for me of my sweet niece Ashleigh small world breaking down when we were on it who passed in 01 my uncle jimbo whose gone he loved those turkey legs.
    My mom and dad who are both gone they loved disney tge last trip we shared there was when they came to pick me up from the college program they were treated like royalty. Dad was doing hemorrhoids dialysis and the nurses at mgm were amazing to him . We got front row seats at beauty and the beast. Did epcot and just enjoyed being together.
    I love having these memories and can’t wait to revisit . And see their faces in the special spots in the parks. Memories are great things to have.

    1. Susan

      Hemodialysis….

  31. Shannon

    Beautiful! Literally have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your mother certainly did it right. I have 2 sons and I am their Disney mom. I hope they love and appreciate me half as much.

  32. Megan

    Your words are beautiful, and what a blessing you mom was! She was even more proud to be your mother I’m sure ❤️ I too am a Disney mom, and at times I wonder if all of the saving, long hours at work and planning are worth it? But everytime I see my little girls faces, I know that I am creating lasting magical memories for them ? Bless you and your sweet mother, I know some day you will pass the Magic on to your own family and your mother’s spirit will be there. God bless!

  33. Caroline

    Thank you for sharing this. Your story really touched me. My family too heads to Disney when we need a pick me up.

    Caroline

  34. “Gulp” turning my phone off to enjoy the wonderful family sitting next to me. Thank you for posting.
    Sorry for your loss.

  35. Nancy

    Hold on to those cherished memories. Everytime I see Wishes, I think of my Dad who loved Disney. You article was beautiful jus like your Mom.

  36. Stephanie

    I’m a Disney kid and I am raising 2 Disney kids….My parents drove us over to Disneyland from Arizona every summer that I can remember through high school. My husband grew up 5 minutes from Disneyland and his mom was there on opening day in 1955.

    My husband and I went to Disneyland often while dating and our girls are growing up Disney. We have annual passes and go over often. I nailed it when you said our families ARE different – not better or worse – just different.

    Those experiences are what drives us to work hard everyday. Walt is our hero 🙂

  37. Debbie Greig

    Not enough words can describe the feelings that your tribute brought. I knew about your Mom from her friend Christine K. but I didn’t know enough about her son who is an example of every Mother’s dream! I am so sorry for your loss but I admire you for making this day a celebration of her life. It’s difficult for many to get through this day without tears whether the loss is to death or something else, but you are an inspiration who has helped change that….at least for me. I know you are blessed for having her as your Mom but she was also blessed with you as her son.

  38. Arica Hutchins

    Thank you for this, i think i needed this. My children see me cry over the same thing as well. Raising 4 is a huge struggle. I hope one day i can afford to take them to Disney, a magic place where magical things happen. Like the love btwn ur mom and u florished. Man im sorry for ur loss, at the same time i feel uplifted. I felt the sadness but i felt joy more while reading. Your a great writer to have made that happen. Im 34 yrs old and have just 3 days ago been diagnoised w congestive heart failure. I dont have much to offer my kids but the necessities as working a full time job and taking care of 4 isnt easy. But i will say this… I have endless love and i couldnt be anymore proud of them. As im sure ur mother is of u. Even i put back 5$ a wk and it may take yrs i want my children to exp that. I want to watch them as they light up and smile. Id give anything to witness that. I know ur mother thought the same thing when she took u! Thk u so much for leaving w smiles and a warm heart this evening. I hope good things come ur way ☺

  39. Debbie Greig

    There are not enough proper word to describe the feelings that your tribute brought. I knew of your Mom from her friend Christine K. who is my forever childhood friend. I also knew a little about you but after reading this, I know that you are an inspiration-the kind of son that Mothers dream about! You took a day that was sad and turned it into a celebration of a special woman’s life! Too many of us have tears on this day for one reason or another. You’ve helped turn my tears into positive thinking along with being thankful for the good memories instead of dwelling on loss of those I love but rather on all we shared together. Disney is definitely the place of wonder & magic. It was for me & got me through many years of happy times. Thank you so much!

  40. Debbie Greig

    Please excuse double posting. Computer problem! Did not realize this first post got through.

  41. Carmen Schumacher

    Dear Adam that was a beautiful story and really hits home for me. This past year my daughter was in the Disney college program and was friends with Mickey, Minnie, and others! We have been going to Disney since she was two years old and her love of Disney just keeps growing. She is back at school and hopes to finish this December. Her plan is to hopefully do a professional internship or a full time position. She loves the magic and loves bringing joy to all who visit Disney. Sadly my parents never made it to Disney and every time time I watch the fireworks show I cry because I wish they could have experienced this magic! Thanks again for Sharing this tribute to your mom! Your Disney mom Carmen!!

  42. I loved reading your story! Hope I can be a mother to my son they way your mother was to you! x

  43. david

    Thanks for this….you know my story all too well…and ours are similar…the day I came home from NYC for Mothers Day in 2014 and realized, “It’s time to come home!”
    Mothers Day without one for an only child is so very difficult. I walked into Publix and saw all the cakes and flowers Saturday and had to work through a panic attack.
    Your story is amazing. Thanks for sharing such beautiful memories and I’m so proud of you for turning sorrow into joy!

  44. Kristin

    That was beautiful. I’m so happy you got to make such wonderful, happy and loving memories with your mother in the most magical place on earth. My mom was a huge disney fanatic as well and raised me the only was a disney mother could. I lost her to breast cancer when I was 12, 10 days prior to my birthday and shortly after mothers day. She was great at finding the bright side of everything and to many of her chemo treatments she would dress up as disney characters and also bring costumes for her doctors. Disney did an amazing job of making my mothers last trips memorable and as magical as they could be. Each time I’ve returned I feel her walking through the gates, and embracing the magic with me. Thank you for sharing this <3

  45. Bill Kempner

    Well done, Adam. I didn’t know your mom, but I remember when she and your dad were expecting you. Thanks for sharing your pics and memories. Losing your mom is always tough-I lost mine last year. Wanted to tell you “Good job on helping out your dad” recently. Proud of you.

  46. Kayleigh

    Wow Adam! I had no idea that you were going through this. I’m sure your Mom was so proud of you! You’re a great man and I hope you find comfort in knowing your mom raised a great kid. Great read! I’m a Disney girl too. All my favorite memories are there with my daughter Cadence. Hope you’re well!

  47. emily

    Wow, you are such a wonderful son. So glad you were there for her at the end, like she was there for you. I can only hope that my relationship with my kids will be like what you two had…

  48. Seth

    Your story touched my heart so deeply I felt like I was a part of your family. I am so grateful that I still have my mother to spend time with. I want to take her to Disney, and have wanted to for a long time, just can’t afford to. Sorry for your loss cause moms r the best…..

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