I have been working on this post, for over a week. Not because I didn't want to share it, but because I wanted to find the perfect words. The truth is, sometimes words escape us. Sometimes there is no perfect.
I want to say that I lost my mother. But I know where she is, she's in heaven. I want to share the fact that my mother passed away. But it wasn't a passing, it feels more as if she was forcefully ripped from me.
I want to say that she's gone. But she's here with me, with every plant I touch. She looks back at me from the mirror, and she's with me as I sit at table - back to the window, warming in the sun, just like her.
The unadorned truth is, my mother died, suddenly, on August 26th. She wasn't sick or suffering and she didn't get too old. She was 66, and while she had medical issues – they were nothing that suggested that her days were limited. Nor were they the cause of her death. She was there, in her kitchen, getting a batch of zucchini relish ready for canning. And then she was gone.
My mother wasn't a saint, she was human. And she wasn't a teacher by trade, but she she taught me. She taught me how to can jellies and relishes, how to garden, how to work hard in the church, and how to love. She taught me about butterflies, beneficial versus parasitic insects, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe, and how to use a bread bag to waterproof inexpensive winter boots when your means don't quite meet your needs. She taught me how to stretch a grocery budget, how to fold a bedsheet, how to say a bedtime prayer, and how to track down ancestors long-gone. She taught me how to sing as if the tune didn't matter, and to dance with reckless abandon. She taught me that strawberry shortcake was an acceptable dinner on hot summer evenings, and that homemade soup would cure anything but cancer.
My mother wasn't perfect, she was perfect-for-me. She was hard when she needed to be, and soft when she could. The strictest mom on the block... and the first one out the door with band-aids and fruit juice when she heard a cry of distress. When I disobeyed, it was rarely the hard spankings of my father I feared, it was the silence from my mother that steered me. And when we disagreed – which we did often, as two strong-willed women should, even when I never “came round” to her way of seeing things – I could still see that her way was borne of love.
I could tell you that at her funeral, there were so many flowers that I could barely find my way up onto the platform for a reading. I could tell you that it smelled like a garden, and how appropriate that seemed for a Master Gardener of over 25 years. I could tell you how my sister and I, before the service, took feather Monarchs and tucked butterflies into each arrangement in honor of "Madame Butterfly" and how the ceiling fans made them look as if they were fluttering. What a palty summary that would be, of the palpable sorrow that hung heavy in the air alongside the love I could feel with every breath of perfumed air I took in.
I could tell you how the honor guard played Anchors Aweigh as we lifted her from her final car ride – how it was the only time I ever remember not singing along, as Mom loved that song so very much. I could explain how I refused to cover my ears during her 21 gun-salute, and how a butterfly chased the breeze as they played Taps. I could tell you how I watched with each fold of her flag, thinking, “those corners are NOT tight enough for Mom! She's a color-guard... they need to be TIGHTER!” I could try to put into words how honored I felt to see so many decorated heroes, far older than her, there to say goodbye to MY mom. But this would be a poor summary of how my heart dropped to my shoes with each volley, or of the wrenching gasp that escaped as I failed to stand in perfect silence.
What I can tell you, is that my mother taught me how to live. She taught me to work hard. She taught me to love harder. She taught me relentless tenacity for what I believe in, and to endlessly love those I care for. While I can't yet say that I am “okay”, what I can say is that I will be. Because I am, who my mother taught me to be... and that's
I love you Mummy.