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On Going Home Again

 “Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life.               They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so when we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memory than all the years that succeed them.”                                                           —  Robert Southey

     On Going Home Again

Here’s the syntax of things–the blah-blah-blah you don’t have to read (but is, nevertheless, a big part of moving back home):

When I was working over two hundred miles from “home,” I had a continuing fear that my mother would die while I was swamped with work and no one would understand my grief, which I was already certain I would not want to share publicly.  I worked not exactly in a high profile position, but I had three classrooms full of college age students who varied in temperament, from metaphorical dreams to literal nightmares.  Yet, even the best students weren’t all that interested in the inconvenient truth that I was a person too (unless it meant getting out of a test or something like that).

So when my mother’s remission from lung cancer held long enough for me to consider and secure early retirement, my husband and I immediately began the process of searching for new homes.  We wasted a lot of time looking for what we wanted.  Eventually we found a house on a golf course that we both loved, but one that was still about an hour away.  We showed my parents, and made an offer that was accepted. Unfortunately (and fortunately) it did not pass inspection.

At the time I was of a mind that we just needed to get closer than we were, but once the contract on the house we wanted fell through, my father made it clear that he was staying put, and that we should think about moving closer to my hometown, where my parents had resided since 1961.  Or, the way he put it in reference to the other house was, “It’s too far to the Walgreens.”

We looked at many properties in my hometown, but many of them were older with one-car garages and small kitchens needing some renovation, and we were used to a newer home with a spacious kitchen and three-car garage.  It’s hard to imagine how you will live in a new way until you live that way; so, we wasted months looking until my husband finally suggested a fairly new condominium that was in the heart of town and just blocks from my parents’ house.  I really wanted no part of downsizing at the time, but in my husband’s infinite wisdom he explained that buying the condominium would just be a way to get us near my parents…reminding me that time was of essence.  I honestly didn’t like the idea at all, but I cooperated, and then didn’t feel too disappointed when we were outbid.  My husband, on the other hand, was very disappointed, and all of this delay wasted another four months while the other bidder could not secure financing and the realtor suddenly called us back to make another offer.  By this time, the holidays had come and gone, and we didn’t get moved in until just before my mother’s 83rd birthday in January (which turned out to be her last).

When we first got settled, there were lots of boxes and less space, so I was involved in starting to get rid of as much as I could.  We also found a new gym right away where I resumed personal training, and I spent way too much time trying to rehabilitate myself physically from the long-lasting physical effects of my closed head injury.  I say too much time, because I was looking forward to having at least the rest of the year with my mom, when I didn’t even get another spring.  All those workouts that mainly only caused more fatigue for me could have been postponed until spring, after all.

All this is to say that moving is messy and complicated, and it takes more time than you ever imagine it can.  And life always has a plan of its own. But there is indeed an exquisite charm to moving back to the town where you grew up.  And you can’t get the feeling by visiting or temporarily relocating; you have to come back lock, stock and barrel.  I’m still processing it all myself; I’ve only been back one year, and as it turned out, on the heels of one of the most whirlwind years of my life.

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And here’s the feeling/heart of it:

Those first nights in our new condominium were difficult for me, mostly because of the noise (we live across from the train station and down the street from the local police and fire stations–I know, it is nuts). But these were also difficult nights because I was used to staying at my parents’ home whenever we visited.  Even though we occasionally saw them during the day, it was such a fulfillment of a dream and such a huge change to be finally “home” that I actually felt far from them at night, even though we were only three blocks away.  It seems funny now, but that is how it felt then.  I’m not overly attached to my folks if it seems that way; my mom was ill, and as a caretaker my dad was getting overwhelmed and I just wanted to be helpful.  To a lesser extent, I was also trying to make up to myself for a lifetime of living away from them.

One night, I was so restless that something compelled me to take a drive.  This was before we knew my mother would get pneumonia that winter; she was doing great at the time, just a little lethargic (for her).  So, I got in the car and drove around, and because it was so late just decided to drive past my parents’ house.  Instead of just driving by, something compelled me to pull into the driveway, where I turned off the key and just sat.  I wanted to go in the house, but it was something like 3:00 in the morning, and naturally I didn’t want to wake them.  I sat there thinking of them sleeping inside, then started to cry not a little wimpy cry, but a pretty significant sobbing kind of cry.  This surprised me because at my age, I hardly ever cry at all.  I was astonished not only at my tears, but at my heart…and looking back on it now, I think I might have had some intuition of what lay ahead…but in the moment it felt like I was just feeling the culmination of looking back on a lifetime.

I had moved away many years before against their wishes—my mother was particularly angry that I left, but my father lamented that it was his fault for allowing me to travel so far away for school.  Now that I had lived decades apart from them, I felt I understood for the first time what they wanted to protect me from.  It was something like standing behind the moon’s eclipse, unable to see the light, and now I saw what I couldn’t have seen when I left or all those years while I was away.  I realized poignantly the sacrifices my parents made, all they had invested, how they must have worried and often rightly so.  And as hackneyed as it threatened to feel, I felt foolish for believing that one had to leave home to create an independent life to fulfill one’s dreams.  It was like lost in the funhouse, seeing one’s past in the wobbly, wavy mirrors of an unavoidable truth that wasn’t altogether a pleasant sight.

After that night, however, I adjusted well.  My husband was enamored by our new way of living, by the many conveniences and all the great food and restaurants nearby.  I took notice that every day was infused for me with childhood and early teenage memories every place I went, every street I saw.  Even the air would bring back crisp memories of coats I wore and friends I knew…teachers and neighbors and events and activities turning in a merry-go-round of memory.  Right there was the snow-hill we played on through recess, the skating rink and the tennis courts, the tree we hung out under, and the circle drive we did our first speeding around—well, some of us did our first speeding around…I did my share of shrieking.  There was the little library, grown massive now, and there was the time we went streaking—the bare feet, the flip-flops, and the “shoe boots” that my mother lined with plastic bags for easy removal.  There were even the dry tights I pulled on after school to replace the cold, snow-covered ones, and the knee-high stockings that I wore to a football game…

There was the stuffed animal my grandfather used as a promotion piece in his retail store, my grandmother’s garden, and the school fair with the abundant cakewalks.  There was the park where I had my first kisses from someone I actually liked…and there were worries about wars and bombs and air pollution, and having to take a pill far into the future in place of eating food.  There were stores and songs and slumber parties, and playground balls for kicking and throwing and catching.  There were the early morning kickball games and the running relays after school, the kindergarten door I used to patrol when I was a 3rd grader, and the fast food place I got my first job at 15.  There were parades and floats and sandy trips to the beach.  It wasn’t the Charles River, but then, it wasn’t a river town.

Above all, there was that hometown feel where everywhere you go people are happy to see you, and they are kind and generous.  The lady at the cleaners gave me a watercolor brushed calendar, the guy at the shoe repair shop sang me a song, the baker posed for a picture, the restaurant owner gave us free soup to take home, and the hairdresser gave me a hug.  My doctors were nearby, and my care continued uninterrupted without the long, taxing commutes.

These are the simple things of one’s past that may sound banal, but when one is alive and grateful contain meaning that serves to give pause, and to encapsulate what the American poet Muriel Rukeyser penned as breathing in to create:

“Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.”

Such is the spark that poems are born of, when one is richly blessed.

© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.

On Losing My Mother, and Fulfilling Dreams (part 4): Bon Voyage, Great Spirit!

On Losing My Mother, and Fulfilling Dreams (part 4):  Bon Voyage, Great Spirit!

Santorini, Greece

When grandparents die it can be the end of an era for a family.  Particularly in an ethnic culture where old world ways dwindle and traditions begin to fade.  Such was the case in our family when my grandmother died, though my mom was a good steward of making delectable artichokes, and knew how to make the prized biscotti, pizzelles, rozettes and cannoli, as well as expertly execute the preparation of the manicotti and ravioli with her cylindrical tubes, heated press, crepe pan and pasta machine.  They could have made an action figure doll of her with all her various culinary accoutrements.

so many memories together

so many memories together

I got through this first Christmas without my mother partly by trying to make most of her signature dishes.  It made me feel close to her, and yes it brought unexpected tears and new insight into who she was. I even wore her apron some of the time; perhaps more often than she herself might have, so focused was she always on the process and not the pretty.

I didn’t get the artichokes or the homemade pasta accomplished, but I made almost all of her holiday cookies, realizing the hard way that experience does indeed keep a dear school.  Fortunately, I’m not an altogether bad cook otherwise, and I’ve pretty much mastered the kids’ favorite, eggplant parmigiana, as well as the most important endeavor of making “the gravy,” (known to non-natives as “spaghetti sauce”).  Italian family traditions don’t begin and end with cooking—they just sort of center around it.  There is also history, music, singing, dancing, church, art, debate, beauty, conversation, wine, stories, love, and best of all, laughter.

My daughter’s grief is also great like mine, because she was especially close to my mother.

     my daughter and me              --in our Christmas aprons--

my daughter and me                                            –in our Christmas aprons–

So similar in nature, they were truly kindred-spirits, more so than my mother and myself.  It was a joy to witness their bond, and to hear them cracking-up together when they both should have been sleeping.  So, after my mom passed away, I couldn’t be much surprised when my daughter had the idea of fulfilling one of her grandmother’s few dreams.

My mother had one Greek uncle, the father of my mother’s closest and favorite cousin, whom we always referred to as “Aunt Franny.” She and Franny were closer than sisters, the best of friends, and their relationship alone enriched our family history with endless stories of their adventures.  Because of their

cousins

cousins

bond, we were all closer and happier.  They made us feel anchored, and I can only imagine what my mom’s absence must feel like for Aunt Franny.

It seems my mother’s Uncle John would regale her siblings and her and all the cousins with splendid stories of his home country, and these stories stayed with my mother all her life.  So much so, that even though she was Italian by origin and not terribly well traveled, she would say in her ever-unique way of thinking that she never much cared to see Italy, but she always wished she could see Greece.

(Great) Aunt Jenny, Aunt Franny, (Great) Uncle John

(Great) Aunt Jenny, Aunt Franny, (Great) Uncle John

She wanted to see the beauty of the Mediterranean islands that her Uncle John affectionately painted so vividly with his words, which she said could bring you to tears, and often did him.

And so this year, for our first birthdays that fall so close to the anniversary date of our great loss on April 10, 2013, my daughter and I will be traveling to Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens to see through our eyes what my mother said she always longed to see.

It is just the only way we can bear to say “Bon Voyage” to the greatest mother and grandmother either of us has ever known.

Athens

 

@ Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.

On Losing My Mother (part 3): Reading, Writing, and “Fanny Fatigue”

On Losing My Mother (part 3):  Reading, Writing, and “Fanny Fatigue”

All my life, my mother was enthusiastic about education, and one of my favorite first memories is learning to read pre-kindergarten in our front yard. It was just my mother and me sitting under the big elm tree on a sunny, weekday afternoon.  My mom got me these awesome picture cards, and as it happened, we were looking at the figure of an elm leaf, learning to read the word, “elm.” This stands out as one of the first and most profound poetic memories of my life. After all, poetry can be seen as a series of embedded connections, and though these were quite literal, it all felt rather metaphoric to me in the moment (even though I hadn’t a clue at the time what a metaphor was).

My mother was so good at understanding the mind of a child. She always encouraged us to think and to wonder, to have awe and to be inspired by what we saw. And she always encouraged us to get involved, and to jump right in to enjoy new experiences. Another favorite memory that followed many years later is when we first started e-mailing each other in the early 1990s. Nothing could have felt more appropriate than that first e-mail I ever received from my mother, which naturally contained a recipe. I immediately envisioned the two of us together in another time and culture. I could see us sending smoke signals with lists of ingredients. Anything to get those recipes shared.

Still later, after I sent several e-mails filling in Mom on the quotidian of my and my kids’ days, my mother replied, “I could read your letters all day long. You write so beautifully.” Not given to flattery, my mother never complimented me much, and that these were just letters dashed off during the frenzy of my days made her words ever more memorable. Certainly she was no critic and her words were no true measure of a daughter’s talent, but just having unexpectedly pleased her with something such as writing (that was actually so meaningful to me)–and hearing her say something she’d never before said to me–seemed vital and valuable.

My mother had an interesting ease about her, and her affable nature made her seem genuine and approachable to just about everyone. People liked her so much that they rarely forgot her. In fact, when people recognized me at my high school reunions, they often exclaimed things such as: “Debbie Valentino! HOW is YOUR MOTHER?”

It was the same way with all of my father’s friends and with my brothers’ friends. If you knew any of us, you knew my mom…and even if you didn’t especially like one of us, you liked my mom. She was always making something—from slippers to spaghetti, from curtains to Kleenex boxes, her hands were constantly knitting, crocheting, sewing, counting, cooking, crafting. Even when she sat, she was working on something.

My mother was a complete extrovert who loved staying busy and loved people almost to a fault, and she would annoy me by doing things like knitting booties for all my friends and even some of their mothers and brothers. She didn’t require a lot of attention or praise, she just did what moved her spirit.

One time I wrote a poem about her feeding my ex-husband.  “MOM! HE’S NOT your son-in-law anymore!”

You could not get her out of the kitchen ever.

“Mom! STOP COOKING!”

“I’m not cooking! I’m just baking a cake!”

It is because of these experiences, no doubt, that writing has become so much a part of my life…that I feel at all compelled to write this blog. Critics didn’t stop my mom. Neither did perfectionism. She just did whatever she enjoyed, and that made her happy. She would find my blogging a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, I can hear her squeals of delight, “You should see Debbie’s blog!” She was always everyone’s best cheerleader. Not just her own children’s and grandchildren’s, but everyone’s. She was high-spirited, and she delighted in the joys and successes of others.

My mother was not a writer, but she was a maker and a doer.  A woman who invented out of bangles and beads things that would last and hold meaning (if they weren’t falling apart, that is). My mom was a maverick in so many simple and yet remarkable ways, but it can’t be re-iterated enough that what she was certainly most accomplished at was providing warm and delicious meals, nearly every single day of our entire childhood and into our adulthood. Even when I was in third grade and she finally “went back to work,” she would stand in her high heels and nylon stockings, working at the stove without a break from the day. We spent hours as a family together at the table enjoying her lavish meals, leading many a friend who joined us to proclaim, “I sure wish I was Italian!”

My mother was also a woman of enormous faith and strength, and she had been tested in ways that would undo almost anyone. Though a physically tiny woman, cross-eyed and legally blind in one eye from birth, she was incredibly resilient, having overcome a lifetime of hardships and illnesses, including surviving three caesarean births when surgery procedures were nearly barbaric—as well as a complete hysterectomy just days after I was born, a thyroidectomy, and tens and tens of other operations (including the partial left lung lobectomy) that left incision scars all over her body. Resulting from the thyroidectomy, she had a raspy, sort of piercing voice with yet another scar that stretched across the entire length of the bottom front of her neck, and somewhat coarse features that made her not at all masculine, but certainly not the beauty of her family…perhaps, to put it biblically, the younger sister Leah to the older sister Rachel. Yet, she would literally say in her indelible spirit and good sense, “I think I’m beautiful.”

She was not vain, and in this way was an incredible role model both to myself and especially to all the female grandchildren. “I’m me, and this is the way God made me. I like myself. If others don’t, that’s their problem. I feel sorry for them.” And I believe she meant it. In this way she was ahead of and yet right in step with Dove’s new selfie campaign.

I won’t say these medical challenges didn’t make my mother sometimes do odd things. She named me after the doctor’s wife, because he saved her life in childbirth; I think possibly for the second or third time. That’s right, his wife.  I was an Italian-American baby with a Jewish name (spelled “D-e-b-r-a”) that I never grew to like or appreciate (at least until after her passing), much less the legacy of being named after a veritable stranger.

That was my mom. She had her own unique logic, and as we were fond of saying, “was a little bit goofy sometimes,” but that was also part of her charm and what made her endearing (if not challenging). She was so spontaneous that she didn’t always consider the ramifications of what felt right to her in the moment, but she never met a stranger and she didn’t suffer any fools, and certainly suffered no regrets, which she made clear to us many times in the months before her passing. “I’ve lived a good life. I accomplished a lot. I want to be remembered for having lived for my children.”

That was just the Caroline we all knew. (Named after her favorite grandmother.)

At least she didn’t name me Ira.

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If there is anything left to say, it has to be said that my mother loved to laugh. The woman who made everyone laugh and sometimes laughed just to laugh, then laughed at others laughing at her laugh could have had as her anthem that Mary Poppins hit song, “I Love to Laugh.” The woman who told endless stories about remote acquaintances, and always asked in restaurants for extra lemons and lots of whipped cream, was also the woman who on her deathbed wrote in her still strong hand that she had “Fanny Fatigue.” She was ready to go when she went, but we weren’t ready to let her go, because we knew that to large measure she was the party no one ever wanted to miss.

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© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.

On Losing My Mother (part 2): A Return to Blogging and the Creative Act

On Losing My Mother (part 2):  A Return to Blogging and the Creative Act

My mom was the quintessential first teacher for sure.  And this, among other things, is what makes her so difficult to finally say goodbye to.  She was just so much fun in so many ways.  That seems a phenomenal thing to be able to say in the end about any mother…

I suppose I really wouldn’t know.  When I went away to college, I remember being notably surprised to discover that there was such a thing as a bad mother—or even that some people actually favored their fathers over their mothers.  I’ve always loved my dad, but I had also always assumed that everyone’s mother did the multitude of things that my mom did.  When my father would relax after a long workday, my mother’s work would continue.  Even though it was my job to clean the kitchen, my mom would be sewing and ironing, or getting something accomplished before bedtime.  From knitting needles to crochet hooks to needles and thread to needle-nose pliers, my mom’s hands were always doing something. She even called it, “relaxing.”  She was responsible and reliable in every important way, and  I just assumed that everyone’s mom was also that way.

My mother was surprisingly industrious, and despite whatever might have ailed her, it was nothing to come home after school to discover the driveway painted free-hand with the paint left over from the window shutters, large boxes outlining games of Four-square and Hop-scotch, Sky Blue sitting ceremoniously on top.  We would jump right in and play for hours, days, even years. She’s likely the one who mounted the basketball backboard and hoop above the garage.  She was that versatile, that take charge.  You’d often return to find her barbecuing the evening’s supper, snapping peas, or pulling rhubarb to make a pie. You never really knew what she would come up with, but you knew it would be good…and sometimes just downright funny.

Not every idea my mother ever had was a resounding success.  One time, she decided to spruce up the kitchen by putting wood-grain contact paper over the pink tile.  That didn’t look so good for obvious reasons.  And because she was free-spirited and not at all stifling, she let me paint my bedroom with some random can of navy blue enamel.  That didn’t look so good, either.  She loved to try new things even in her cooking, which my dad the traditionalist did not always appreciate: “Do you have to experiment?  Why can’t you just do it the regular way?”  My mother loved the joy of discovery.  In fact, she was so famous for her culinary endeavors that her kitchen was affectionately known as, “Caroline’s Café.” You could have whatever you wanted, and there would always be homemade soup, something exotic, and at least two or three entrees to choose from.  If you said you liked something, it became “your favorite,” and you could count on having it again and again, and again if you wanted it.  You were always healthily fed.

My childhood memories also include groups of us gathered around our kitchen table, laughing, concentrating, and creating.  Homemade play-doh was something my mom regularly whipped up in minutes. Since Math was also important, there were endless games of Dominoes and all kinds of card games and board games to help us learn to add and subtract.  I especially loved Michigan Rummy, because that was always a big, loud crowd, but by the time I was 9 years old, I had mastered the quieter one-on-one game of Canasta to the point that no one could beat me. Yet, it wasn’t the mastery my mother cared much about.  She loved to see us engaged and learning, and she clearly understood that a young brain needed this kind of assistance; she didn’t just put the game on the table and leave (the way as a working mom I myself did too often).  Her time was our time.

My mother’s hard work translated naturally in her to easily thinking of ways to keep us busy—not in a contrived or arduous house-cleaning kind of way, but in a fun, spontaneous, ever magical kind of way.  It is a mystery how she came up with so many great ideas when no one else in the neighborhood seemed to bother or care. She was just naturally creative and imaginative–Pinterest before Pinterest was of anyone’s interest.  While other moms watched soap operas with their hair rolled in hollowed-out orange juice cans, my mom was setting up the Boy Scout or Bluebird group activities for the day.  It truly was her mission to “keep [us] kids occupied”…and this not only included my two older brothers, but also the neighbors’ kids, our school friends, classmates, and of course, our cousins.

My mother would do things like take record albums and heat them in the oven until they were moldable into bowls that we would decorate for chip-dip. She would give us each a beer class that we could slather with glue and glitter, then fill with wax and a wick to create glistening candleholders.  There would be glitter everywhere, but my mom seemed only concerned with the process.  She always put fun before housework—even though it was actually all work for her.  Messes just didn’t bother her at all.  She was much different from her own mother and even from me in this way.  It was like having Mary Poppins around. But my mother was never persnickety and not nearly as anal-retentive (though of course, you’d rather she didn’t sing).  I do wish I could ask her now how she came up with all the enchanting ideas she had.  She was a marvel, and an equally amazing grandmother.

(to be continued in part 3 ——-)

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© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.

On Losing My Mother (part 1): With Sutures in My Shoulder

On Losing My Mother (part 1):  With Sutures in My Shoulder

Sitting in church before the start of Mass on my mother’s first birthday since her passing last April 2013, I had to stop and think how long she’s been gone.  Nearly ten months.  And in all of those long, painful months, now heading toward one full year, I hadn’t once been aware on the actual “anniversary date” how long it had been.  That is, that other awful numeral “10”—April 10,–the day we succumbed to pressure to remove my mother’s life support…April 10, the burial date of her own mother…just five days after my daughter’s birthday on April 5, and two days before my own birthday on April 12.  Alas, April becomes the cruelest month, indeed.

Not one time.  Not on the month, day, or ever.   This seems odd to me, as in my grief group, people are diligently marking time,

            “It’s been one month; it’s been two…”  

How did I fail to notice?  I don’t know; I just can’t do it.  Or, don’t.  Perhaps I can’t bear to.  Why think about that one horrible day when we lost her, when what comes easily is all she gave to us over the more than eight decades? Every second is a kind of agony this first year, not just one day then not so much the next.  Grief pervades our movement.  I accept this.

Hymn played at my mother's birthday Mass.

Hymn played at my mother’s birthday Mass.

For me, my mom is gone and she is gone, and suddenly the only consequence of time is how the past blends with the now, how something was and now will never be again.  Mostly, I just ache, sleeping sometimes in her nightgowns, occasionally wearing shirts of hers I never would have worn before.  I guess anything just to feel her still close.  Today I am grateful to be emerging from the lingering shock I’ve stayed in since one Tuesday late last March when my father called at 7 a.m., imploring us to come quickly. 

It’s awfully hard to lose your mom, no matter what your age or hers. It’s especially and most particularly difficult, I suppose, when one has had a good mother, with whom one is looking forward to many things.  A mother so treasured that one would take early retirement, just to help in her care.  And only a good mother, though she is ill, participates in the dreams her children have planned; in my case, added so much to the actual planning.  Indeed, we had one of our best visits ever the very night she became intubated.  Joy on Friday, horror on Saturday.  It can go that quickly.

There isn’t a thing or even things one can do to prepare oneself fully for such a loss.  I know, because I’d been preparing for years, and was given both the incentives (through multiple life-threatening setbacks, both hers and even my own), and the luxury of time (through the six-year remission from lung cancer that my mother accomplished).  She was winning that battle, and in the end did win it against lung cancer…but didn’t win it against mortality.  Her compromised left lung (and more to the point, compromised stamina) couldn’t fight the ultimate pneumonia that a healthy lung could.  After losing other loved ones too soon, I decidedly intended to cover all my bases.  I visited often and called regularly.  One day, I even spontaneously decided to retire from my longstanding teaching job the minute I became eligible, just to move closer to her, thinking I would return to work once I got settled near my hometown where I could more readily help my father with my mother’s growing needs. 

But in the end I learned the ironic lesson that no matter how comprehensive I was, I really didn’t come close.  The bitter truth is, we cannot know what we don’t know (even when we know a lot and anticipate a good deal), and we really can’t see life in its fullness until we see the very death we are evading.  It sounds obsessive, until you meet the entrance to this cave of change.  You think you know what love is, and you think you might even know how to forgive, and then you lose your mother…and all of a sudden the Holy Grail is whacking you upside the head.  In comes marching the reality that you couldn’t apprehend unless and until she was gone.  Hello, new truth of life.  And then, of course, it is too late to say or do a thing, to show her you finally see, to settle any scores. Even if she’s somehow listening in the great beyond, you’re initially too stunned to speak.  And what are you going to say anyway that isn’t preceded by a pre-mature and grotesquely guttural, hauntingly primal and extended, “Mooooommmmmy!”  It can be maddening the way losing your mother snaps you back to an infancy you thought was long lost.  Before I knew consciously that she would pass, I can remember sensing it subconsciously–shuffling around the house in circles; sinking blindly, tearfully into the bathtub, uttering continually, “My mommmy…my mommy…my mommy!”    

Hymn played and sung at my mother's birthday Mass.

Hymn played and sung at my mother’s birthday Mass.

 

The good news is that death delivers plenty to learn from, and in this way, the deceased keeps teaching us in ways similar to when they were here, yet so much more profoundly.  Somehow, we finally understand that which we never got. We see the beloved in new light, in the fullness that was their truer being.  Not so much as a parent, but as a person.  Such tender feelings arise.  Seeing a photograph of my mother at age 12 suddenly unveils to me the innocence that informed her great, pure spirit.  It’s as if we get out of our own way, and our perception comes more keenly into focus.

This must be how the admission, “You were right, after all,” originated.  And what you didn’t value about them becomes precious.  What seemed senseless makes sense.  I held stacks set aside in piles to give away of what I saw as my mother’s most recent silly gifts.  After she passed, I ran to those piles to retrieve what I now use and never will part with.  The metal earring stand that once seemed gaudy now looks charming, functional, and endearing atop the jewelry armoire I gratefully inherited.  It may still be gaudy, but it is a piece of my mom, something that ignited something in her spirit, and in this way, it now warms mine. 

(to be continued in part 2——)

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© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.