And life without her physical presence began. I started missing her the very moment she died, and although I no longer shed as many tears, I continue to miss her and that feeling of being a motherless child will live with me, as a second skin, the rest of my days.
The first All Saints Day after her death, I gathered a number of pictures of my mother, creating a Betty Anne Shrine. *Mom as a little girl, a toddler, with her grandmother. Her entry into the world was not welcome, and thus, there are few baby pictures of her. *Mom in her 20's, in her beauty, sitting on a porch stoop, legs primly crossed at her ankles, hands folded in her lap. Someone has said, "Let me take your picture." *A formal portrait of me with Mom. I was about a year old with hair neatly combed and my pink pinafore starched crisp. She is beautiful in her young motherhood. *Mom and my grandmother, her mother, and me on a summer day on the farm--short sleeved dresses, white anklets for me, high-heeled sandals for Mom. I am about 6, which means Mom is 31. All three of us are chubby. *Mom and I on Kate's wedding day. Mom wearing floral silk and her hair perfectly coiffed, as always. She looks small next to me. Cancer had not yet whispered its presence. *Mom and Dad standing on the front porch of our home at Sweetwater Farm on a fall day, a crisp, smell the apples and gather the pumpkins kind of day. *Two Christmas pictures: one of the three of us siblings with Mom and Dad. Dad is holding her hand. One of Kate and I with her, and she is holding Maren, only weeks old. We knew that would be Mom's last Christmas, but she radiates with holiday joy, wearing a red blazer and holly decorated Christmas heels. Oh, how she loved shoes.
As I sat with those pictures, I recited words from a book I had used the first month after my mother's death, Meditations for the Passages and Celebrations of Life, A Book of Vigils by Noela N. Evans. Using a vigil for grief and loss helped me create a boundary for the expression of my grief, confining it to a scheduled time and space. Then I could move through the rest of the day, functioning, responding, meeting and greeting, filtering the sadness out of the everyday interactions. Flo, at the post office who always commented on my stickered packages, did not know I was ready to burst into tears. The clerk in the grocery store who asked me each time where I got my colorful mesh bags, did not know I could barely speak because of the pain. That sheltered and reserved time, when each day I recited the day's meditation, saved me.
On Sunday, Mother's Day, one of the vigil lines reappeared in my heart. "Your participation in my life was a treasure beyond words, and I hope you can feel my appreciation." I added, "And my forever love."
She is, of course, still present in my life. For example, when I fold and smooth and refold my napkin during after dinner conversation, just like she did, she is there. When I put on a piece of her jewelry, I feel and see her hands slipping the ring on my finger and gently adjusting the necklace at my throat. I get out of the car and smooth my coat or sweater, and my motions are hers. These moments are gentle reminders, "I am here, and I love you."
One of my dearest friends whose mother has died also is convinced our mothers are responsible for our friendship. "I wonder if our mothers' spirit met and said, 'Let's get our daughters together--they would be such excellent friends.'" That feels so right. As a sign of their love and understanding of what we most needed in our lives right then, they brought us together. We needed each other and perhaps our mothers needed each other, too. Through this gift of friendship, our mothers' love is tangible in a new way. It is all love.
Our daughter-in-love lost her dear mother far too early, the year before she and our son were married. On Mother's Day her ritual is to sit in the backyard and lift her face to the sky and toast her mother with a vodka tonic, her mother's favorite. She tells her how much she misses her and loves her. The love continues. And always will.
It is good to remember. It is good to feel our heart stop for a second in a recognition of what we miss. Who we miss. It is good to remember the treasures passed on to us and to lift our faces to the sky and say "I am so blessed."
One way we are all connected is that we have each had a mother. Some were better mothers than others. Some were better mothers at certain times in their lives than others, but we are here because of our mothers. And that is a blessing, indeed. I am grateful for my mother and for yours.
If your mother is no longer alive, in what way is she still a presence for you? If your mother is alive, in what way is she a blessing for you now? I would love to know.