This morning I am sitting in my mother’s place. It’s early morning at the lake, the weather is as off as my mood, foggy, cool, placid. There is movement on the water, always movement, flowing north. Early morning is the best time at the lake. It is quiet and peaceful. Sleep still has me in it’s grasp but the day is gently pulling me away. My thoughts last night, this morning, tomorrow are focused on Mom. I wish she were here, sitting in her spot at the end of the long green couch, the part of the couch that forms a lounge chair, feet up, covered with a brown furry blanket, gazing at the lake, sipping warm coffee, just as I am now.
“You want to come up to the lake?” This is the one question I always got a “yes” from mom, even when we have fallen to the ground in the poring rain, and hit rock bottom. She loved being up here as much as I do and this does not surprise me because so much of who I am is wrapped up in her. When I was young I fought against our similarities, the last thing I wanted to be was my mother, now it is all I want.
I want to know who she thinks will win the bachelor next season, I want to watch her play Safeway monopoly, exclaiming over a free donut, I want to share coupons, exchange recipes, walk to the clubhouse, sit in the sun. I want to know how she got the stains out of the carpet, the orchid to survive, I want to enjoy a glass of wine with her after five, with ice, and only one. I want to go bra shopping for my birthday, I want to know what she’s reading, I want grab a bite at the Outback. I want to have her like she had me and I want her sitting in her place.
I want her laughing at my stories. I want to see her silly comments on my blog. I want to know what to plant in the full sun and under the arbor. I want someone to remember me at five, sixteen, thirty-one, forty-nine, and fifty-seven. I want the woman who loves my imperfections and knows how to vanish my fears. I want to talk with her about my dad because she loved him the most. I want her to help me organize my hall closet and pick out bath towels. I want her to watch my grandchildren grow. I want her to ask me about my day, my students, my lesson plans. I want her memories, her love, her seasons.
I had the gift of my mom this mother’s day. I don’t know if I’ll have her next time this day comes around so maybe it’s time to start acting as if every day is her day. She is sick and has been for almost a year. It’s a gift but one that comes with many obligations. I see her often, her spirit is there, but the woman who raised me is missing. She is so soft, small, quiet. She is doing the work of the dying. This is as laborious as birth, just as important, just as painful.
Helen Keller says, “Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” I think this is true for all of us or at least I hope so. Sometimes death comes out of nowhere and there is no time to process, appreciate, prepare. But the gifts we leave behind are always available. The way a person makes you feel, allows you to be yourself, honors your journey by their very involvement in your life. That is a choice and that is the gift. Stay present, stay in, this is the only way to leave behind the gift of you.
I remember when one of my children came down with a strange illness the doctors could not diagnose. I was a mother of four children and I knew he was really sick. I would lay next to him in bed for hours, offering water, because he was too weak to hold the glass. I would memorize every aspect of his face. I lived in fear that I would lose him. I counted the freckles on his perfect nose, the thick eye lashes slightly crusted with sleep, the shape of his lips. I noted the brow line, the soft blond hair that framed his face. The perfect ears so evenly spaced. The pink cheeks I kissed repeatedly. He survived and the memory of him at six is etched in my brain forever.
My girlfriend Deborah recently lost her mom and she instinctively did the same thing. She memorized aspects of her mom to keep with her forever. I remember doing this with my Dad but that backfired a bit because I couldn’t move past the last embrace, the last time we made eye contact, the last kiss good-bye. My lovely therapist/best friend Christine warned me not to stay in the last moments, to move back to the memories, the gifts that we get to keep.
I know I am nearing the end of my time with mom so I going to memorize her face, the arthritic hands marked with age spots, the farmers legs I massage with lotion, but mostly the moments when I get to see her smile. I won’t stay here too long. Her real gifts are so connected to who I am and I’ll carry those with me into this wild wonderful life. The love of libraries and reading, antique stores and strolling, soup and egg sandwiches, dogs and cats, planting in the spring. I’m sitting in her place literally and figuratively because that is what I have of her, the present, and the future she gave me as my mother.
“It began in mystery and it will end in mystery, but what a rare and beautiful country lies in between.” Diane Ackerman
What are the gifts from your Mother?