Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Mother's Last Gift

My mother died.  There...I said it.  My 70-year old mother died, suddenly, shockingly, without a satisfactory explanation, on June 29.  The obituary told the facts, but not the story.  She left behind four devastated daughters and a husband who'd never loved another.  The pain of not being able to say "good-bye" is more haunting than I could have ever imagined.

I haven't been able to blog, or even talk, about her death with any feeling.  Things have been very bottled up inside me and I've avoided dealing with my emotions, to a great extent, since her funeral.  But grief will not be ignored.  Feelings will have their out.  I want to share something that my mother gave to me.  To write about it means to process the feelings I have about it, which means an emotional thawing is about to take place within me...I hope.  Because I desperately want to find my feelings for her again.  They've seemed just out of reach, right around a corner, for several weeks.  I hope that writing will help me find them again.

My mother considered me a much more well-informed person than I consider myself.  She enjoyed my silly blogs about day-to-day minutiae, but she often asked me, "Why not write about something other than being a housewife?" 

The simple answer is that I have no desire to spend my time defending my beliefs.  If I need to, if I'm called upon, I can and I will, but I'm not a reformer or a proselytizer.  I'd rather share my observations than my opinions.  The opinions are buried in the observations anyway, ready to be mined by the sharp-eyed reader (whoever you are).

But my decades as the self-appointed family know-it-all don't disappear because I'm too chicken or lazy to draw fire for my views on politics, religion, social justice, ethics or philosophy.  Momma often encouraged me to write about more serious causes.  In fact, her words conveyed something to this effect:  "You should really blog about your opinions on important issues.  Of course, I would never do it, but you should."  Is it any wonder I didn't immediately accept her challenge?

My mother, Carole Jones, posed this question when she was here for my 50th birthday in early June.  "You have such talent; you express yourself beautifully - why not do something more with your writing?"  If I recall, I brushed off that amazing compliment with a dumb, self-effacing comment.  After all, what could be more un-cool than to be admired by your own mother?

As it turns out, there's nothing un-cool about it at all.  In fact, every time someone you love says something nice to you, you should say "thank you" and give them a hug.  Better yet, say something kind to them in return.

Because 3 weeks after I hugged her good-bye at the airport, she died at home after just a few days' illness.  I'd written her a thank-you note, itemizing all the things I was grateful for related to her special birthday visit.  I sent her some pretty stakes for her exploding vegetable garden, and a few other silly gifts in addition to the note.  It was the least I could do for the person responsible for bringing all my sisters here for my birthday, as well as giving birth to me.

The gift arrived in the mail the day after my mother died.  She never saw the note.  She didn't get to pick her tomatoes, peppers, pole beans and squash.  She didn't get to finish restoring her adorable little house, or travel to Vietnam, or learn to snow ski.  Like most people who die, she wasn't done living yet.

But she did accomplish a great deal in her life, as was so beautifully articulated by the people who spoke at her funeral.  I didn't intend to write a eulogy, so I'm not going to itemize her accomplishments, but I do know of one wish she left undone that I can help her accomplish...even now.

Years ago, I told my mother a plot idea I had for a novel.  It was truly pathetic, but she was very supportive, asked lots of questions, and helped me to see how I could build on my idea.  During that conversation, she confessed that she'd written several chapters in a attempt at novel-writing, back in the 1960s.  A few days later, she sent me a copy of her effort.  I read it and called her to talk about what she could do with it.  My mother was not interested in working on it again; she simply wanted me to see that she, at one time, shared my desire to write creatively.

My mother once had a letter published in TVGuide (in praise of Barbara Walters, as I recall), and I think she had a few letters to the editor published.  But as far as I know, none of my mother's creative writing ever saw publication.  Since I know she once had dreams of writing, I'd like to use my blog to publish something she penned.

This poem was actually written recently.  The yellow legal-pad sheet is dated in my mother's neat hand:  6/1/11.  It was included with several other gifts she gave me for my birthday.  The writing is in pencil, the cursive is uniform and slanted with several scratch-throughs and corrections.  Here is what my mother wrote for me:

A Birthday Poem for Michele

When you were just a little thing
You jabbered quite a lot
No one could understand you for
You had your own "word pot."
You'd pull one out and say it and
Expect a prompt reply.
We'd look at one another
And try to reason, "what" or "why"??

Making sense of all your words
Came easier in time, but...
As you grew, your bucket grew
And your mouth rarely shut.

Today you talk as much as then
And details are your game.
However, words mean power
And you use them well for fame.

The narrative of your online blog
Is mastery in humor.
I laugh so much my stomach aches,
And I marvel at you more.

Your grown-up jabber serves you well
I'm proud of your keen talent.
Now I know those baby words
Were truly heaven-sent.

Love, Momma

Dear Momma, wherever you are, you are about to become a published author.  I'll always be your loving daughter, and I'll keep trying to make you proud.