I lost my mama two months ago today.
I haven’t been able to write much about her. Even thank you notes to all of the wonderful friends who shared their love, traveled to be with us, cooked us meals, sent flowers to surround us, helped us with her memorial service, or donated to her favorite charities in her honor have been so hard to write.
One night the week she died I wrote this on my facebook wall… I wanted to share it here so y’all could know even a tiny bit about my mama and how she influenced me (and shaped this blog).
I can’t express how much comfort it has brought me to know that so many of you knew and loved Mama. This week I’ve been a wreck and a mess…I lost my best friend, north star, compass.
Lots of people have shared with me how creativity was a defining characteristic of Mama. Make a beautiful, fascinating life-like insect out of seed pods, leaves, and twigs? Capture a moment in time through a portrait of your children in oil that you’ll treasure forever? Sew an ENTIRE set of bedding for her first grandson’s new room and daybed that fit like a glove and is more perfect than anything from a store? Make a dwarf pomegranate seed grow and finally twist itself up a thin wire trellis (AND still produce fruit!)? She did all of those things because her little hands and her genius mind could construct, stitch, paint, draw, write, design, grow, or arrange just about anything they wanted to as well as any master of any trade.
But the thing about her that people have remembered that she would–deep down–be most proud of, is that you noticed how sincerely and thoughtfully she considered other people and what they needed. My daddy and I were almost always half frustrated by my mama’s need to have everything “just-so.” My dad has always said our home has “those little touches that make a home a hospital” because mama always has kept it clean, straight, disinfected, and ready for the white-glove treatment at any and every moment. We had more silly harangues about whether or not various other things in my life have been up to snuff.
Even over this past year and a half, when she’s felt truly, horribly rotten, Mama got up and 98% of time, put on makeup and real clothes and fixed her hair, even just to sit on the couch, needlepoint, and have lunch with us. When musing on this on Tuesday, someone said of mama, “And that was NEVER vanity. It was sheer discipline and a sincere, deep consideration for others.” He was right. As a mama, as a friend, as a wife, and a human being in this world, my mama always put other people’s needs before her own. She wanted every person who came through her door to know they were special, important, valuable, and wanted to encourage them, celebrate them, listen to them. Everyone deserved her absolute best self, her highest effort. Inconveniencing someone else, asking for help, seeming down or disheartened (and in doing so, causing worry) just wasn’t something she was willing to do.
If you’ve seen her these past two years, knew she’d beaten cancer and then heard that she was suddenly gone, you might not understand how someone who “looked so great” and “always had a smile” could have been in such trouble… and the answer is that she considered you worth treating with care and love, and wanted you to feel hope and joy instead of something else. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for her, but I also know that a crazy internal strength and tenacity was what kept her going every day. I hope knowing that she cared for you and thought you deserved her very absolute best will make you smile. And then if she let her guard down even one 1/10 of an millimeter and shared a glimmer of how she might be actually doing with this crazy other disease that arose after the cancer, well, then that’s a sign she cared for you, too.
While these past two years have been the hardest of my mama’s life– she didn’t feel like painting, couldn’t garden, wasn’t able to do much toodeling around town–it was, selfishly, the very closest time together for me in our 34 years together. Just like all mothers and daughters there’s always been a little bit of “Why can’t you be JUST like me?– Wait, No! Be better, be more!” and “I want to be JUST like you! But also I really want to be myself which means the very opposite of everything you think you stand for!” But my fear of losing Mama brought me home, and we have been closer than ever, in proximity, but also in mind and spirit. Not only did I learn more about mothering from her example this year and a half, but I had a chance to be the kind of daughter I always wanted to be for her. It’s been a crazy gift. I wanted more time with her– so, so much more time– and I’m hurting now, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that now she’s whole, and has been healed and is probably out there digging in the dirt and smearing paint around as we speak just like she would want.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be even half of the mother my mama was-because 2/3 of the time I feel like a trainwreck-but I’m absolutely going to try. Her example is worth living up to and I can see it out there like a lighthouse in the fog. But right now there’s so much fog. When you tell me about what you remember of her, or when you see something in me that reminds you (even ever so faintly) of her, it will keep me going. Two days in and I can already tell you I’m going to need it.
We’re going to celebrate and remember Mama at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Saturday May 13th at 4 (Because she wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt the middle of anyone else’s Saturday plans but would have wanted to make it easy for friends from elsewhere to be with us and not miss work). If you are around and want to help us be joyful and find some peace, please join us…but if you can’t make it, then please just say a prayer and toast to creativity, strength, and caring for other people–and maybe that’ll bring even more of those things into the world.
I’m still feeling a lot of the things I wrote in this post two months ago, but I’m starting to have some peace. Mostly because I’m starting to find my way by getting back into doing the things she and I loved… one of those things was fresh figs. Last year I celebrated her cancer-free diagnosis with them because they were one of two foods she could eat the previous summer during chemo. Mess of Greens did a week of fig recipes, and this week since it’s fig season around these parts, I’ll post as many more good ones as I can come up with. If you make one, let me know!