Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dreadful Day

The evening of the Friday before Mother's Day, 2016, my sister Angie and I had a simultaneous realization with several states between us. Our mother hadn't been on Facebook for many days. I received a message from her moments after noticing.

"Have you heard from mom lately?"

I had last spoken with her on Facebook Messenger the previous Tuesday, but there had not been much to say, things were the same as usual. Friday night I called her home: no answer. Emailed: no answer. Facebook messages: no answer. I couldn't sleep that night, dread...dread...dread. First thing in the morning I called all the local hospitals, she had been hospitalized twice in the last year for pneumonia, but she wasn't there.

Dread. So much fear. Ice in my veins. Angie called the police.

An officer was on the scene within the hour, at our request, for a health check. All the doors were locked, no one answered, both of her cars parked in the drive with no signs they had been moved in several days. He reported being unwilling to enter. We called back. BREAK DOWN THE DOOR IF YOU HAVE TO.

Silence. Waiting. Trying to be hopeful. The call.

Angie: "It's not good. They found her on the couch."

Then tears and tears and lament and confusion and "what do we need to do?"

We set to work when our emotions over come us. We make ourselves busy. The pain can't reach us then.
And now it's been 32 days since we buried our mother and the missing starts to come. Today would have been the Sunday I would make an effort to call my mom. I tried to call her one Sunday a month. She didn't seem to mind that but, was irritated if I called more often.

Truth is, we didn't talk much, my mom and I. When I called I most often could hear the clicking of her keyboard, she responding with half listening answers, me grasping for conversation. Trying to be a good daughter, feeling like it didn't matter. Over the last ten years so much of our interaction was digital, social media creating a relationship that didn't hold up face to face. Online she loved and doted on her grandchildren, in real life they were too loud, too busy, too much. Online I was her wonderful daughter who married a doctor and wasn't I lucky for that? Real life there was so much criticism, nary a compliment outside of "You're lucky you have a good man." And I am! And I do! But I often longed for her to see something worthy in ME, to raise up who I have grown to become. Ever the child craving the praise of the parent.
,br> The strange truth, that everyone knew how proud she was of me, how she praised me, except for me. I wish I could have heard her say it. I wish I had a card, written in her beautiful handwriting, telling me all the things she gave away easily to others. But I don't.

And now I'm left with photos, a record player and a few nostalgic records, trinkets collected from her home, memories. I can't call her anymore. I can't agonize over what to send her for Mother's Day, her birthday. I can't log onto Facebook as I used to everyday, to make sure to like and comment on all of her gardening posts, because that's how she felt honored, noticed. And don't we all just want that? To know that we're noticed?

How do you miss some one who wasn't a part of your everyday? How do you miss a mother who seemingly stopped mothering when you went to college? Who, after spending every day of her life since her teens with children, was just ready to break free. Do you force yourself to miss her? Mostly I mourn the mother of my child hood. The mother who made me biscuits and gravy for my birthday breakfasts, who boiled home made noodles for chicken soup when I was sick, who taught me how to read. I had a mother who took me to the laundry mat and let me pick out a candy bar at the gas station next door even though we had so little extra. I had a mother who made sure I had a little more than I needed even when there was no surplus, a mother who worked hard for small pay for decades so I could be a straight A student, college bound, scholarship recipient, soccer captain.

It's easy to forget she's gone.

The nature of our infrequent connections means that life doesn't feel much different, but then I see a photo and my heart squeezes tight inside of me, and I remember.

This was the last time I saw her face to face, hugged her long, smiled at her, made her laugh. Even in death, I never saw her again. My good bye was to the shell of her, wrapped in a shroud, veiled from connecting to the actual loss. This final visit was shortly before our family moved from Texas to New York. We drove over from Houston, the kids and I and stayed in a hotel for the weekend. Mom met us at this park, the kids played all red faced and sweaty at 9am in the heat of a Texas June, ate lunch at the local deli that gave me my first job. I am SO GRATEFUL I did that. So grateful we ignored the expense of a hotel and dining out and gas and spent these two days with her. We ate dinner at Chili's where the service was slow and she marveled at how well behaved the kids were despite waiting over an hour for their meal. Impressed that I didn't just give them a screen to keep them busy. I soared for days on the compliment, felt loved and honored.

In those two days I noticed how slumped she become, how her back bowed and her breathing seem labored. Decades of smoking, of allowing that to be her "only vice" as she would say. I longed to take her with me. To pack her up with our children and fly her away with us. But that was never meant to be.

In the photos, I miss her.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


My mother has a grave.

This image is hard. It hurts to look at because I know it is my mother there, but also because it is beautiful and death seems as if it should be ugly and rancid, it is hard because it reminds me that we are all so close to this moment. Our mortality is finite.

My mother has a grave and a piece of my heart is left in it. All the questions I still wanted to ask, all the memories I was imagining we might make. She was to move in with us soon. We had plans for her own tiny house on our land and a path from me to her and her grandchildren skipping to her door. Hopes of digging deep in the earth together, a garden and silly chickens and dying surrounded by love. I didn't know. I didn't know it might not happen.

My mother has a grave and laying her there was too soon and uncomfortable and perfectly right. My faith tells me that God guided our hands to the place where she rests. I prayed and prayed and chanted in my heart and mind and begged God to make it right, to guide my siblings and I, to show us where she wanted to be, to show us HOW to be.


Every step was guided. Random internet suggestions told us about Eloise Woods, we found papers in her home about the very place. I walked the trails of that place, my heart crying to God. "Show me God. Show me where." And he did.

My mother has a grave and I am at peace that it is the exact right one. Walking the trails, my heart reaching out, He came close. The sun peered at me here and I knew. We walked through to find a quiet, secluded little place, sunbeams just plentiful enough to let the wildflowers in but not so harsh as to dry the land. Everything can grow here. Even in death my mother will do what she always loved. She will help beauty grow, she will be fully one with the ground and the most beautiful plants will thrive there. We planted Texas lantana at the foot of her special place. Together we sprinkled bits of her garden down deep with her. Soil and flowers growing in her garden, rose petals from the rose bush she had nurtured for so long. Momma rose will miss her careful pruning.

My mother has a grave and when they carried her past me the finality of it made sense. There she was, she was right there, but she wasn't. They wrapped her body carefully, beautifully, fully naturally she lay there. From dust she was, to dust she would return. Until this very moment nothing felt real to me. The day we worked through her home, collecting important papers and special keepsakes for the children, it felt like she was going to come home any minute and find us there. Maybe she was just at the grocery store, some one must have made a mistake. But no, in this moment every truth of that phone call the day before Mother's Day impacted fully. The tears my sister and I cried to together, the shock, the waves of grief and disbelief and all the careful planning in the days prior, it was all laid bare when her body was carried past. My sister, so strong and brave to carry her to this final place.

My mother has a grave and I no longer have a reason to visit the town where I was raised. The last ten years of life with my mother have been mostly digital. Emails and Facebook posts, phone calls where her typing was evident background noise. Our time physically together was never quite as joyful or comfortable as these electronic interactions. I often felt like it was two people I was pursuing. I see now that they were both the real her, just expressed differently. I wish she would have been fully herself for me, I wish I could have heard from her own lips and voice what she thought of me, I wish I had told her more of my favorite memories from my childhood. Memories of home made chicken soup on sick days, of biscuits and gravy on special weekend mornings, of playing Scrabble and being so proud the first day I beat her fair and square. I wish I had told her how glad I was that she never just let me win. I wish she knew how much it changed me to volunteer at the nursing home where she worked, how it taught me to value age and life and wisdom and to treat them with dignity. She was gifted at that. My heart aches that she never had a chance to meet Zoe, to smile at her and see how sweetly she smiles back. My children will never know their grandmother who was so proud of them, who posted their pictures for all to see, who filled her home with their photographs. Zoe met her grandmother in the most tragic of ways.

My mother has a grave and just a handful of us have touched its earth and seen it in its serene beauty. My heart is filled with determination now that she is gone. To not squander the gifts I have because of her. My love of books and writing, my desire to make life in the barren soil, and in the wake of her passing my heart finds itself empowered to connect in real time. To see the faces of those I love, to look up from the digital and touch the real in front of me, to make time for the family she left me. Brothers and a sister, an aunt who has always reached out despite my distance. If there is good in death, it is this. It forces us to truly see the people who might not always be around us, but who are HERE. To draw them into our own daily life. To begin our own lives anew, connecting more fully to the sacred, to the tangible, to the given gifts of our days. I write these words to work through my own shrouded understanding of this loss, but I do hope that if you have come here you will think deep about your own time. How you spend it, and whether the people near you know how special they may be to you. My hope is that I will be better about not holding back my praise, my sentiment, that people will know how very loved and important they are to me. I pray you will consider these things too. Let not the days of our lives be wasted.

Monday, May 9, 2016

so long

It feels an eternity since I wrote here last. So much life lived between now and the last time I worked in this space. The unfortunate truth that I am back here to process a loss, a loss I'm not sure how to articulate. Today is the day after Mother's Day, the first Mother's Day I celebrated as a mother of 5 and here I sit, delayed in the airport after missing a flight that will lead me to bury my mother. The sudden loss of her is both startling and somewhat expected and yet the irony of this, of my traveling to lay her rest with my sweet daughter, 5th in line, just as I was to my mother, born to me the same age my mother was when I completed her child bearing years. So full circle and continuous is life.

In six weeks time my siblings and I were to gather together for the first time, all in one place, to give our mother a chance to enjoy her children and grand children what was expected to perhaps be the last and only time. The heartache of this, that instead she passed alone in her decades old trailer, no one there to notify 911, no one close as she breathed her last breath. I can't stand it. I can't fathom this, why the trajectory of life lead her this way. I hesitate to even say God, though I know He allowed this. I am angry with Him over it, but also oddly placid. Things will happen the way they will after all. It benefits us not to dwell on the unanswerable why. The practicality of my nature that I inherited from my mother.

I don't want to do this. I don't want to go back to the town where I spent my entire childhood, where all my memories of her are so fresh. I don't want to step into that trailer where I grew up, the one I cleaned because she didn't, the one I was so embarrassed of in my youth, the one that made all of my belongings wreak of second hand smoke. I don't want to remember the man who lived in the trailer down the street and how she never knew. But I'm writing all this here because I have to. I have to process the loss of her, of a person who loved me so deeply but hardly told me. Who boasted of my successes in life to people she'd never met, but from whom I only received criticism.

I love her, she sacrificed for me, she worked hard so I could have the very opportunities that brought me to the college where I met my husband, where God met me, where my life unfolded into this beautiful masterpiece that it now is. I love her because she is my mom, but I still carry hurt and resentment and questions and I know that only the healing presence of the Father will walk me through this. I am an orphan now. No father. No mother. But I don't walk alone. I have a Father who adopted me long ago, who celebrates me and allows me to rest. It is my joy and challenge now to rest in Him.