My mom is Vicki Dee.
My mom is dead.
She’s been this way for exactly 8 months, but in this last week before Mother’s Day I’ve been more acutely aware of how gone she is. There is no place to send the card. The number to call has long since been disconnected. There are no flowers to send or hugs to give. Nothing left to wrap our arms around. I’ve read beautiful articles written by those who call themselves motherless or unmothered, and I’ve felt all at once encouraged this tribe of grievers have survived and mad they ever had to hurt like me. They’ve felt in different degrees and shades some catastrophic loss, how much they are without. I settle in and feel at home with them. Really and truly, we all just need a hug from our moms.
So much of what I’ve read is about The Loss. It is about the end and the world which came after the important people left. I’ve thought of little else besides what we are without. The tips for grievers tell me how to get along without. The focus of therapy or books or prayers or kind words from strangers mostly revolve around who is missing and how we Sad Ones are doing about it. This is how to care for us who’ve lost the crucial pieces. This is the way we check in on hurting people. But, you see, I’ve thought and stewed and cried out and railed and revolved around this loss for months. It is all-consuming already. I’m dizzy with my mother’s death. It makes me furious. It breaks my heart. It feels like a betrayal. It feels like the saddest sympathy beating on my chest. It’s all I’ve thought about & I still can’t make sense of how or why or what now.
So for one day I’m going to take a break from death. It has weighed me down and scraped me empty and worn me the hell out for months and I am so tired of hurting, missing, getting by without. Because for a while I was WITH and never without her For a good bit my mom was fully, really here. There were so many days before the last. There was so much life before the death. And, my God, it was a big, bright SPARK of a life. My mom lit up rooms and the smiles of the fortunate few who got a front row seat to her show. I was there! I need to tell you today I WAS THERE for her life!
She loved God & cuss words passionately. I hear her squeaky humming of dusty, old hymns the same as I can feel the rumble behind her booming f-bomb. She loved her mom and her sisters, her brother, too. She loved wine and dogs and funny YouTube videos. She loved her kids & her grandkids. She loved cooking but not eating her own cooking. She loved doting but couldn’t accept a compliment. She loved old ladies and babies and flipping between televangelist sermons & prank shows on MTV.
She was beautiful. Her big clear eyes sparkled ocean blue. Her long nose was perfectly chipped and chiseled. It matched her sisters and brother and mom, their identical parts. Her neat line of teeth revealed little-to-big-to-smile. I can see her dainty limbs and wispy hair fluttering. But lest you think her elegant, she was so awkward, too. Those fragile, long legs and delicate arms were normally covered in bruises from the walls and steps and air she’d trip & fall over. She’d honk big, thunderous sneezes from her pretty nose. I see her in her flannel shirt, beaded earrings, and hair fluffed out beyond nature’s reason. A style charming, crazy and colorful. She was gorgeous and a mess and you couldn’t quite take your eyes off of her.
Her bony hands, tall and worn from work. They could check five foreheads for fevers, calm the worried, knead the dough, sew the dance costume, clap to the music, cup the perfect faces of grandbabies, wave around like tiny storytellers accentuating her words. Those hands held the whole world.
My mother felt everything.
She’d get lost in her own town and require your calming phone navigation skills for an hour or two. Pointing out that she had phone with GPS and an actual GPS in her car did not help the situation.
There was a man dressed in a grubby Santa suit peddling newspapers on the street corner. She called me so verklempt I thought she was hurt. She just realized that he was very grateful for $5 and it broke her heart and made her very proud of him and made her ashamed of how little $5 had meant to her. Months later, she would cry if you brought up Street Corner Santa.
One night watching her favorite movie Nell I glanced over to see tears streaming down her face. Jodie Foster spoke in broken wilderness talk “Do no kay, chick’u pea” (Do not cry, chickapea). The irony wasn’t lost on me and I cracked a smile. She never took her big, teary eyes away from the screen, just swatted my knee, snorted and smiled, “Don’t laugh at me, asshole”. She felt every situation personally and immensely. But if she wasn’t the one to get so overwhelmed by the minor bad then she wouldn’t be the special one to be so overcome by the tiniest good. A grandbaby’s sleepy eyes, one breath of sea air, bare feet on grass, a few words in a book: these ordinary bits moved her heart. Easily and always awed is how I think of her.
She referred to the elderly (whether they knew her or not) as her people. Her soul was ancient like theirs so she went to work for them, dedicated her days to loving them. Watching her touch the rough, wrinkled faces or rub the frail shoulders I got the sense that they really were her soul mates. They didn’t seem to notice her youth and she couldn’t care less the spittle or medicated smells or inconveniences of their age. There were no differences of discomforts between mom & her people.
My mom was a writer. Her words were skinned down and simple and said, somehow, the exactly right thing. I read her words and notes still and remember her brilliant mind.
I was 10 or so and jumping on the trampoline with Mom and the sisters. We girls were all quick and graceful. Our little bodies turned back-flips and front-twirls. Amid our bouncy ballet I remember her flailing in all directions, raucous laughter as she fell again and again on her butt. She’d barely stand before she fell again and she found the disaster funnier than anyone. She plopped around like a clumsy baby bird. She didn’t quite know where to put her limbs or exactly how to fly or how to land even, but she was so happy to fall. I can’t explain it but this one image of her sums up everything I loved about her.
The night my son was born my mother cradled him against her chest. The fifth grandbaby, I didn’t expect her to be much more than the standard-grade excited. When I looked at her face tucked around his new body, I couldn’t understand. Her brow furrowed as if she was concerned. Her jaw set as if she was focused. Her eyes closed hard as if trying not to see. A tear fell down. She looked pained, wounded. This is what it looked like to love something terrifyingly, hugely, impossibly, awesomely much. It is the kind of big love that breaks your heart wide open. It is the kind of love that knocks the breath out of you. It’s the kind of love that is so heavy it hurts. I get it now because I miss her the way she loved us always: without condition, with everything.