Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Snapshots-- For My Mother

Black and White

You are a little girl, standing in front of an ancient car, surrounded by your brothers and sisters, Kansas field dust swirling in the background. It is a picture that always reminded me of the Okies in Grapes of Wrath. I cherished this black and white, and framed it, along with others that depicted your childhood—you with your metal baton, legs poised in a perfect marching stand, your Andrew Wyeth pose, seated in a wheat field, gazing toward your farmhouse. You shared so many stories of growing up on a farm, of your brothers’ antics, and your mother’s steel edged determination, of your father’s absence when you needed him most. I used to tire of hearing the same ones repeated over and over through the years. I would give anything to hear just one of them come from you now.

Growing Up

We are clustered together in our yard, you and dad and the four of us, Debra and I in sky blue matching dresses you sewed, Dad and the boys in suits and ties, Dennis shivering against the April winds. It must have been Easter Sunday, because I am clutching a stuffed rabbit someone gave me, which I creatively named “Happy Easter Bunny.” You are pressing a white hat against your head with one hand, your other placed protectively upon my shoulder. I never appreciated all the clothes you made for us when I was younger, preferring worn-out jeans and tie dye shirts over the outfits you carefully stitched. You were so good at fashioning treasures from others’ careless discards. You planted gardens in summer, canned the vegetables you grew, made jellies from our grapes, tacked carpets over creaky floors, pasted wallpaper, hung Christmas lights around our sagging porch. You were resourceful and strong, and held many skills which served our family well.

Dying Young

We are standing in front of the casket, you and Dennis and I, our arms draped around each other, eyes red-rimmed and sad, faces etched with grief. Dad had left us just a few days before, and, though we knew his time with us was short, we could not make ourselves ready to lose him. His funeral service filled three rooms, and his procession to this gravesite was over two miles long. I stayed with you after Dad died, and together we found welcome reprieve from our grieving as we made preparations for the birth of my son. We spent your birthday that year in the hospital, while I labored, not so quietly, to bring him into the world. We hoped he would be born on your day, but he chose to come at one a.m., needing his own birthday instead.

Better Days

Desmond is a baby, his chubby legs struggling to be freed from his stroller, while you and Aunt Betty Marie, sisters, stand behind him, smiling. We had moved to Naples, close to Allan, where you cared for my son while I worked, and the bond forged between the two of you grew stronger. You lunched with your mall walking group, played cards at the beach with your hospice grief group friends, and, thanks to Betty Marie, traveled the world to places you would never have known without her. You once told me those were the happiest days of your life. I am so thankful you were able to leave behind the cold winters of Indiana, and spend the last part of your life in warmth and sun.


You are seated next to her bedside, soft eyes focused upon her as she sleeps. Our family had tread a difficult journey, watching her wither, as the cancer overtook her, and her spirit began its transition to a place beyond our knowing. Her death left a hole in all of our hearts, but perhaps, for you, it was a hole that could not be filled with daily activity and trivial concerns. You had spent so much of your life worrying about her and caring for her, that maybe without her, you were just a little bit lost.


Your hospital bed is next to the sliding glass door in my living room, where Debra’s was, and you are sitting upright, surrounded by your grandchildren and newest great- grandchildren. It is the day before we move you to hospice house, down the hall from the room where Debra passed. You had made a valiant effort to recover from major surgery, but your body was tired, and four months of illness and hospitalizations had taken its toll. Allan and Desmond and I had worked hard to keep you comfortable at home, and I am so grateful that we were able to do so until a week before your death. Your final week was a peaceful one, with kind and gracious care from the nurses, family at your side, and Desmond’s bass playing soft and deep tunes to ease your spirit. You helped bring him into the world, and he was there to help you out of it.


We are gathered together, here, to celebrate your life, and bring honor to your passing.
We’ll share memories, and more pictures, and our family will go on, and grow, with more children, new generations, as the cycle of life continues. We’ll carry a part of you with us, wherever we go, and bring that piece of you forward to the ones who come after. And so, you’ll live, always, not just as a memory, but as an intricate part of who we are, and who we will become.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

the way back

I am in Indianapolis, now, driving past my old places, now overgrown with commerce, helping my son understand from who and where I came. Like my home in Tampa, every road and resturaunt and landmark revives another memory here of Mom and Debra. But there are other memories, here, as well, memories long hidden in the corners of my consciousness, now revived and shined and looked at clear. The weather is cold, rainy, and cloudy, with only the hint of sun piercing the gray from time to time. This is the climate of my youth.

I am supposed to come up with some profound and moving words for my mother's eulogy, and I am afraid I can't live up to the promise. I don't know what to say about her now. That her illness and suffering toward the end of her life was tragic and undeserved? That it was not what I wanted for her, for me? That I am still sad and mad about it? That I still can't bear to look at her pictures, her magazines, her address book, with her writing scrawled in it? That I think about her every hour of every day, especially when I want to air my frustration about some ridiculous rule or procedure, that I want to call her just to have someone listen to and commiserate with me, help me sort things out, know there is someone in this world who is totally and completely on my side, even when the 'side' is illogical and silly.

My brother is in the hospital right now, as I write this, recovering from a lung biopsy, dealing with his own health compromises, the vulnerabilities we encounter as we age. Dennis, the strong, stalwart member of our brood, who lived his life according to the rules set forth for him, who did what was expected, and who hoped to be rewarded with a time of rest and recreation during his retirement years. Life brings us surprises, sometimes unearned blessings, sometimes undeserved tragedies, some joys, some sorrows. We have to learn there are so many things beyond our control, and we have to enter into the stream not knowing where it's going to lead us, and that we are only responsible for figuring out a way to stay afloat while we ride. I hope my adventures in London are a way for me to return to the stream, to find joy in my encounters with others floating alongside me, instead of where I have been the last few months, on the shore, dry and safe, only observing the stream of life in front of me, too tired and weary and afraid to step inside, to allow myself to float.