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?
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This brings tears to my eyes. I just lost both my parents. I sat in my dads hospital room while he took his last breath on 5/12 my mom who was fine, went to dinner with a friend who was trying to comfort her since the 13th was my dads birthday, ended up choking on her dinner. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital where we watch her take her last breath 3 hours later. The month of May has been a bit tough. I hope you enjoy your time with your mom. We were able to say what we wanted to dad but mom we were not so lucky. She was already brain dead by the time we all got to the hospital. Hugs to you. Its a tough road sometimes.
Charlotte, I am so sorry to hear of both your parents passing. I can not imagine your grief, loss, pain. I have tried to say all the things I need to say to mom while I have her, it's strange how I took her presence for granted, until it became apparent that our time was limited. So I'm telling you now my friend, I love you, I am so glad you showed up at that tulip festival and sat at our table. Lucky am I to have you in my life. I'll be sending up some prayers for you Charlotte. Thank God we have the beautiful lake to rest and restore.
Mom's GiftsMy mom found it hard to say I love you in her early parenting years. Although her words were held, her hands gave love every day and continue to do so.Mom sewed all my young childhood clothes. I thought it was normal to wake up in the morning and see a new outfit hanging on my bedroom door. I always loved what she made for me. She also gave our family color in the beautiful gardens of my chilhood. They were filled with blooms of all kinds, colors, scents. I will always love snapdragons because I remember planting them in a corner of my mother's flower bed reserved for me. When gardens were no longer possible because of a move to deer country, quilts began to arrive in our lives. Filled with color, design, texture. We stay warm and safe snuggled in beautiful art, crafted with love and freely given.My life has also been filled with amazing \”mom meals\”, all home crafted and filled with love. For my mom, from scratch meant you bought whole wheat, ground it yourself, and made bread every morning. No bread machine… stir, need, raise, pound, raise again and bake! Ahhhh the aroma! Hot melty butter on freshly sliced bread. I don't remember mom ever opening a canned meal and rarely did we dine at a restaurant. All my friends hoped for an invite to meals at our home.I have often thought that going to heaven would be something like visiting my mom's home. As you pull into the driveway after a long trip, no matter what time it is, all the lights are on, the smell of home cooking greets the weary traveler just as the door flies open and a hearty hug and greeting envelopes you. Everything in her home tells you that you were expected, you are loved greatly, and that nothing is more important than you and the time together. Beds are made, towels are placed, a warm fire is burning, candles are lit, and brownies are baked! And the best part… you can bring friends with you… it was never a burden. She would always have enough food, beds, towels, snow clothes… whatever was needed for all to feel welcome and loved. Yep… heaven will be something like that!Thanks for prompting a bit of remembering. You are loved and I am praying for your mom. smg
Thank you Sue for sharing these beautiful memories of you mom. I have been a recipient of her hospitality many times and I agree, I've never felt more welcome, loved, and fussed over. She is a jewel. We are lucky in this life to have such incredible moms whose imperfections mattered much less than their kind and gentle natures. We knew we were cherished and loved, the older I get , the more I realize what a gift I have been given by my parents. Thank you so much for you beautiful words Susan, I love you.
I am thankful for the lake house. It is an awesome getaway. I am also very thankful for your wonderful friendship. I believe people come into your lives for a reason. We really do need to try and plan a time to get together. We are not going up this weekend but I think we are going to make it next weekend and for sure the weekend of the 4th.
Cheryl, took a while to read your blog. I Wanted to make sure I didn't have distractions and could really pay attention as you're such a great writer. Our prayers and love are with your Mom, you and your whole wonderful family. You're exactly where you need to be. I remember going through this with my Mom. A wonderful friend and one of my mentors wrote this to me and it really helped me so much when I was going through what you're going through now. \”I am so sorry to hear about your mother and am so grateful that you are there with her. There is no wish greater for a mother than to be with the ones we brought into the world when our moment comes to depart… and the saving grace is every parent, every single one, wants to be in the place to go on ahead of their children. It should never be the other way around. As hard as this must be, it is so right for you to be with your mother and I encourage you to stay and not come back here. You will never get this moment or this time back in your life and you will remember it for the rest of your life. You will never remember what you were doing at work. This is one of those rare times in our lives when we must listen to our hearts and our intuition, which I know tell you that you are exactly where you need to be. Do not worry one bit about us as we will all gladly carry the load and want to do anything we can to alleviate your burdens. I send you love and prayers and wish you all peace and time together.. even in silence only taking moisture to lips with cotton swabs dabbed with Vaseline or tiny, tiny ice chips that will melt quickly. Even with eyes closed and in silence your mom knows you are there… be with her until her soul flies free and remember she won’t want to hear tears from you and your siblings, no, the great joy is a bed surrounded by children telling stories of their mother and laughter breaking out from the joy she gave you all uncontrolled and suddenly those spurts of something funny that gets you… we all just want to know our children our happy and that when they think of us it is not in sadness, but they remember something that makes them laugh… it’s crazy, but it’s exactly what every parent wants.. remembering all the good times and funny things mothers do to raise a house full of children. I send you love and prayer and peace—\” This is how I feel for you. If there is anything that Ron and I can do for you please let us know. Hugs and kisses and lots of prayers for you and your family. Xoxoxo 😘 Love