My mother left us five years ago today, an anniversary that’s hitting me harder this year than it has the past couple. The five-year mark seems to be driving home the truth that she’s gone permanently. It’s one of those things you know in your mind, but don’t really know in your bones when the loss is fresh. Last night, I kept thinking, “I didn’t understand she was going to be dead for this long.”
When my mom took me for my first day of kindergarten, an eon ago, I was puzzled by the children in the class who were crying, distraught over their mothers leaving without them. I thought to myself, “Don’t they know they’re going to come back?”
Now I’m dropped off, the day has grown long, and I see she’s not returning for me. I’m on my own here. But she didn’t toss me upon the world with no provisions or comforts at all. She had a fascination with bells, and collected all sorts. I experience a lot of joy from this tangible item she left with me — a good part of her bell collection. I rang them all for her this morning.
“Ring the bells that still can ring.” — Leonard Cohen
I spent two and a half hours this morning writing about my mother’s death. I know I haven’t been blogging much, but I have been writing. In fact, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), trying to pound out 50,000 words of new original writing during the month of November.
I finally finished the first draft of a novel I began two years ago. But with it ended, I still had 18,000 worth of words to write about something, so I’ve been working on shorter pieces. Twenty-two months after my mom’s passing, I decided I was ready to write about my experience of her death in more detail than I have so far. I can do so now without completely breaking down.
I met one of my writing buddies at a coffee shop this morning and we sat together with our laptops, composing our individual pieces of prose. My friend left earlier than I did, as I wanted to stay until I’d gotten my word count done. Besides, I was on a roll, typing up my memories as they came and I didn’t want to forget anything.
The piece I’m working on is therapeutic for me. I don’t know yet if I will share it or if it’s only for myself. But it surely did bring up a lot of feelings and recollections for me, including the memory of how I spent my first several weeks of grief surprised by my own intense desire for some sort of communication from beyond the grave.
After two and a half hours of work this morning, I came to place where I felt comfortable stopping for the time being. I swear I am not making this up. The minute, I closed my laptop, my phone buzzed in my pocket. When I checked it, here’s what I saw on the screen:
I almost fell out of my chair. Gmail was alerting me that a blogger I follow has a new post published. I don’t pretend to fathom the ways of the universe.
While my mom is still around, I want to take this opportunity to say, publicly, that she was right about so many things. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. But I’ve come around on a lot of issues since I was a kid.
I can rarely convince my son to wear a coat, even on the coldest winter days. I comfort myself by noticing how few kids exiting his high school in the afternoon are bundled up. If I’m a bad mom, at least I have lots of company. I remember how I never wanted to wear a winter hat in my younger days, no matter how many maternal admonishments I received about frost-bitten ears. I wouldn’t believe my mom was right about how important it was to cover your head in order to stay warm, because nobody else my age was doing it. In a concrete sense, I really was too cool.
Somewhere in the years of my adult life I stopped caring whether other people were wearing hats or not. I wanted to be warm. Since I have a lot of hair, I often go for a scarf wrapped around my head in lieu of hat, but I do cover my head with something when the temperature dips below freezing. Mom, you were right. It makes a huge difference.
And, Mom, the thing where you always cleaned the top of a can before opening it? Totally the right thing to do. I used to think this was a silly obsession springing from your clean freak nature. Besides, it added needless seconds onto the food prep time. Then I became a mother, myself. After enough experience cleaning up someone else’s puke, I couldn’t help thinking a little harder about food safety and cleanliness. Once I took the time to make a close observation of the workings of the can opener, I realized how easily the device could push anything from the top of the can into the food. I’ll never reach anywhere near my mom’s level of tidiness, but on this one issue, yeah, she’s probably right. Definitely right. It only takes a couple of seconds after all, to wipe the top of a can. And then I can serve my family tomato sauce with confidence.
Also, my things do last longer when I take care of them. Who would have thought it? Oh yeah – you, Mom.