My father-in-law’s sudden passing has caused us to be temporarily situated in a golf and beach community in South Carolina. I’d love to share that we’ve been gallivanting about, via golf cart, wearing funny pants, and attempting to be under par, but we’ve not. I’d, also, like to tell you about sand between my toes and shells in my beach pail, but I can’t write about that either. We’ve been doing the sad task that many 50-somethings must do after their last parent passes; settling an estate.
My husband is the only surviving sibling, so the two of us have been handling all arrangements, attending to all legal matters, and sorting through the home that is proving to be a time machine into my husband’s past. I’ve seen has birth announcement, hand written by my mother-in-law 58 years ago. I’ve read a letter from his sixth grade teacher, telling of his kindness and brilliance. I’ve held the picture that won him a beautiful baby contest; a story my mother-in-law often referenced when bragging about how good looking her son was–and still is!
Though this task is in its beginning stages, I’ve sorted through what feels like a million papers and boxed up a plethora of things for donations, sale, and haul away. In spite of the sadness, there’s been a measure of joy in getting to know another side of my in-laws. I’ve read ancient letters from friends, throughout the years, who complimented their ability to laugh and find fun in nearly every situation. I’ve viewed photos of them in their late teens through their early 80s, taken at the various homes they lived in and places all around the world that they visited. No matter the scenery, their smile and their loving gaze was a constant. I’ve shuffled through business plans and product prototypes to discover that they were brave risk-takers. I’ve held my mother-in-law’s wild costume jewelry earrings from the sixties up to my own ears and tried to imagine the crazy parties that she may have wore them to in her younger years.
Oddly, there is a healing in this unavoidable process and a deeper wisdom. In the end, there are things that remain that will tell our stories; most are simple pieces of paper with words or pictures marking milestones, successes, failures, events and memories. There are other things, silly things, like favorite sweaters and worn-out slippers, or eye glasses near a favorite book, or even half eaten bags of potato chips that remind us that we’re all so damned human and habitual.
Love the people you’re blessed to have in your life and reach out to those around you.
We may be down here for another week or so, tying up loose ends before we head back to the cold weather of West Virginia. One of the many silver linings of this entire trip has been enjoying weather in the 70s in February. I wish I could ship some of the sunshine to my northeastern blogging buddies!
As for my disappearance from WP lately, please don’t give up on me! I plan to reappear as things settle down. Hope everyone is doing well. 🙂
My mother called me at college, early in the morning, on the day of her death, to remind me to turn in my financial aid information for my impending senior year. Our conversation was brief and ended with our usual, “I love you,” and little did I suspect that she would turn the final page in the story of our lives together that spring afternoon.
On the separate occasions that my own daughters were presented to me, squalling in their disdain of leaving my warmth, I had already begun the tale of our lives together. I’d nurtured them in utero with good food, music that I thought any developing fetus might love, and stories by Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Margaret Brown and all of my childhood favorites. Becoming a mother, the role that I take most sacredly, made me an integral supporting character in the story of their lives. No matter what milestone they reached, success they accomplished, or heartache they endured, my presence was written firmly on their pages in indelible ink. As my own mother had been the arms waiting to hold me, the ears open to listening, and the words of guidance that I most cherished, I endeavored to be the same for them.
Most of the time our plot was sunny and full of the natural fun and laughter that we all craved. When storms, like heartbreak, illness, or the impulsive choices of the teenaged brain struck, we bolstered in and rode it out together. Though the situations may have differed we were still writing a book that I’d read before.
When my daughters reached young adulthood, I entered into a dauntingly unfamiliar territory. When I was 18, my mother’s terminal illness caused her to weakly hand the pen to me to continue our tale. Immaturity, inexperience, and grief made my version of the story scattered and our plot weak. I veered off into dark subplots and invited in characters that I normally would have avoided. While my greatest supporting character was dying, I couldn’t consult her expertise.
As my own daughters broached 18, I was struck by a foreignness that I couldn’t shake for the first few years. Of course, I was still there, but not in every sense of the way. There were doubts and questions. How do I guide them when they seem so grown? How can I conjure advice that I was never given? Where does my character fit in this scenario? Fortunately, I was driven by the only memory that I had of being their age; needing her. Just simply, purely and fully still needing my mother, no matter how grown I looked, or how capable I mostly seemed, I needed her. Knowing this, aided me in learning my new role. I realized that no matter how adroitly or eloquently they wrote, there would be times that the pen would be handed back to me. I relaxed, I listened, and the advice came as I began to see where I belonged.
This morning, I watched my youngest leave for work. Dressed In smart business attire, she approached this Monday with a bright smile, eager to begin her day as a recently promoted human resources specialist. This past weekend, I was equally impressed with my oldest as she ran at full speed through a local store’s parking lot to help an elderly woman that she’d witnessed falling. While they both still live at home; my youngest saving money as she waits for her fiancé to graduate this fall, and my oldest as she finishes her medical school rotations, I am blessed to witness these vignettes. However, I am sometimes struck with the sadness that my mother never got to do the same. At our denouement I was still stuck in conflict without a resolution in sight. I was, at my best, a struggling college junior with a crappy boyfriend, and underdeveloped coping skills. She didn’t see my achievements, advancements, acts of compassion, or the strong capable woman that I am today.
Thankfully, I’ve experienced the growth of my children, from conception to adulthood, in full circle. Gratefully, I have the memory and insight of the faith that I had in their ability to do the right thing even in their darkest of situations. I like to think that my mother was soothed by that same insight and faith in me as she handed me the pen to finish our story. Perhaps, the gift in all of this, the true denouement, is the supreme level of reverence and appreciation that I hold for every miniscule moment, every tiny memory and sequence, that I share with my precious adult children.
What do you hold most sacred? Who are the most important characters in your story?
My mother was the first great presence in my life. Not just in stature did she overwhelm me, as she towered past my 5′ 3″ frame at nearly 6 feet of height. She was larger than life in her bubbly personality, quick wit, and ready laugh. She exuded capability, leadership, and governance all laced with kindness, temperance, and fierce love for my brother and me.
Mom had a deep interest in all things health related and was fanatical about making sure my brother and I ate clean, nutritious foods from both from our garden and local sources. She was convinced, well before her time, that food additives would be the downfall of modern civilization.
She was equally insistent about the benefits of daily exercise. Back in 70s and 80s, before we owned awesome video games, laptops, and iPhones, exercise wasn’t an issue for my brother or me. We spent the majority of our free time running around like crazed banshees in our safe neighborhood. However, with Mom’s busy work schedule, plus, added homemaking, volunteering, and parenting the two of us, finding the time to exercise wasn’t always easy. In the winter months she’d walk or jog, often after dark, but when summer rolled around, she’d excitedly don her swimsuit and do lap after lap each evening in our neighborhood pool.
I have so many memories of her long arms and legs gliding effortlessly through the water as if it were the only place that she was meant to be graceful. Her strokes were impeccable and I’d attempt to imitate her swift butterfly, or crawl, with the best grandeur my stubby arms and legs could muster. Sometimes we’d tread water in the deep end and chat until dusk greeted us and the fireflies waited to light our path back home. The smell of chlorine and honeysuckle bushes, the shiver of the evening breeze against my damp skin, and the cackling of my mother’s laughter are all so distant now. Some things can never be recreated, but life can still be good, and full, and beautiful.
Today, my daughter and I drove to the pool in the warm daylight. We plunged, without fear of the chill, into the cool, deep end. Our arms and legs cut through the water with the grace of the moment; swiftly, tirelessly, back and forth. Treading water, in the deep end we chatted, we laughed, we celebrated weightlessness, levity and being together.
I felt a quiet familiarity there in the smell of chlorine, in the cool comfort of the lapping water that enveloped us, and the sound of my own ready laughter–so similar to hers. So long ago, I was a daughter swimming and chatting contentedly with my mother. Today, I am the mother honoring the memories I’ve had, and cherishing the ones that I’m making.
What’s your best “Mom” memory? How did you celebrate, or help someone celebrate Mother’s Day today?
Happiest of Mother’s Day to Moms, Stepmoms, and special women everywhere who have positively influenced the children in your lives! ❤
At least once or twice a year, my husband and I make a trek to Manhattan to just hang out. My hubby grew up right outside of the city and visiting is very nostalgic for him. In addition to meeting up with friends or relatives, still in the area, we sometimes go to a play, visit a museum, or go shopping. I usually take a ton of pictures when we see or do something new, but the problem is, I don’t get around loading the pics on my computer. Don’t even ask me about the discovered roll of film I developed a few years ago that revealed my now 26 & 23 year-old daughters at ages 10 & 7 at the Washington Zoo. Yep, I’m slow with taking care of my memories. Last night I finally got around to putting the pictures from our November journey on my computer.
During our last trip, we had some time to kill in between planned activities, so we made a quick visit to Obscura, the shop where the Science Channel’s show Oddities is filmed.
I imagined that Obscura would be chocked full of all of the wacky artifacts and people who I’d seen on television. I pictured that we’d kill a few hours checking the droves of antiquities out. I imagined wrong. It had some great stuff inside, but the place was only about as big as a one car garage inside! Still, I saw some familiar faces.
Like this guy:
I recognized this dude, too!
And this one made me sad. Poor little thing! 😦
And then there were these guys:
And this very nice lady:
Though the shop was small, and didn’t contain as many oddities as we imagined, it was still quite an interesting little stop on our journey.
Are you timely when it comes to developing or downloading your photographs? What’s an interesting place that you’ve visited lately?