A Mother’s Day Reflection

May 14, 2018

I didn’t want today to get away without wishing you and yours a Happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day observances have long been bittersweet for me because in late summer of 1997, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy and lost my itty bitty baby – and, as it turns out, my only chance at motherhood. Then, in 2015, Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s. So, Mother’s Day that year was kind of a double whammy for me. What made it bearable, however, was the thought that Mom was getting to spend her first Mother’s Day with her granddaughter.

Today I was really missing Mom. This was my fourth Mother’s Day without her… and it was the most difficult one so far. I woke up missing her… and then all morning I was beset by little things that triggered memories.

Memories are strange things. They crop up at odd moments – and for the most unusual reasons.

When a butterfly crossed our path this afternoon, it reminded me of the time Mom and I were heading home after going out to dinner one Thursday night (because Dad worked late on Thursdays and we decided we didn’t want whatever it was that was in the fridge). We noticed a hot-air balloon with a great big butterfly on it flying low overhead… so we decided to follow it. It eventually landed on the golf course. And oddly enough, it had been Mom’s idea to chase it.

Songs are big memory triggers.

My local Kroger occasionally plays Vaughn Monroe’s “Ballerina”; Mom and I both loved that song. And I always thought he had the most magnificent voice! Go on, give it a listen and judge for yourself.

Or I’ll hear one of the songs she would call and ask me to play when she’d listen to me on the air at work (like “Life in a Northern Town” from the Dream Academy; Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”; “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra; “Lotta Love” from Nicolette Larson… or even “Penny Lane” by the Beatles). Those are the songs that generally bring a smile.

Then there are the songs attached to  memories of Mom that make me laugh out loud. One morning in 1974, over breakfast, Steve Miller’s “The Joker” came on the radio. At the part where he sings, “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker,” my sister Áve and I, being of tender age and having no frame of reference for that particular term, asked, “Mom? What’s a midnight toker?” Not surprisingly, she had no earthly idea. And we had no clue until years later how truly hilarious it was that we’d asked her that!

Another time, in the mid ’80s, Áve and I were listening to WFCS, the radio station at nearby Central Connecticut State University. “Never Say Never” from Romeo Void was blaring from the little radio on the kitchen counter. Mom happened to wander in just when the chorus came on and we were singing along, “I might like you better if we slept together…” She made her infamous “Mom lips” (a dead giveaway of her utter displeasure) and muttered, “Oh, that’s just nice!” and left the room. I won’t even tell you what she said when she heard the Rolling Stones’ “She’s So Cold.”

But music isn’t the only memory trigger.

Mom was big into words. She was a terrific writer – and a fun storyteller. And she used to write some of the best letters I’ve ever received. She used to write me letters all the time while I was away at college.

This morning, on our way to church, something triggered a memory about those letters. She’d write two or three times a week, usually during her lunch break, typed on the clunky old electric typewriter at her desk in her office at the City of New Britain’s City Improvement Commission. When she and Dad came back from a 25th-anniversary trip to Italy, she wrote extensively about that. But mostly, she’d tell me what was going on at home or at work, or she’d regale me with the latest antics of Rehab – a cranky old stray she and her coworkers adopted. He wasn’t the nicest cat (a far cry from our dear Scruffy at home), and he had a penchant for sleeping in open file cabinets and getting black fur all over the files, but Rehab did manage to keep most of the rodents at bay in that drafty old City Hall building.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but those letters were as much for her benefit as mine. I was the last of her brood to leave the nest and she was probably really missing having someone there when she got home after work… not that she missed the loud music and the phone being tied up all the time. But it gave her a connection to her youngest kid. And it was nice to open up my mailbox in the student-center mailroom to find a small envelope with my name and address neatly typed and the New Britain postmark and return address.

Yep, memories surely are tricky things. Some are wonderful; others not so much. They sneak up on you at the most unexpected times and, if you’re not careful, will burn a hole in your heart. If you’re lucky, though, they’ll warm a small cozy place in there and leave you with a smile.

What are some of your favorite Mom memories? And what triggers those memories?

Advertisements

Reflections on Two Years Since Mom’s Death

April 25, 2017

Tomorrow will be two years since Mom died. She’d languished in the nasty clutches of Alzheimer’s disease for a little more than eleven years and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit her eventual passing was as much a relief as it was wrenching.

Through the ensuing weeks, I was fortunate to have many family members, friends and, yes, even clients, around to support me. My husband and I relocated from Connecticut to Tennessee a year and a half earlier, so I wasn’t even nearby when she passed away… and it took us two days of driving to get back there. Along the way, I kept in touch with family and friends via email and text. I also found myself borne up on the prayers and support of dozens of Facebook friends. Aside from a few moments that stand out in my memory, much of our time there is a blur.

At the wake, we saw streams of people – many of whose faces I recognized but whose names I don’t recall. It was a steady flow of friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients, Dad’s coworkers, a state Senator, the daughter of one of my brother’s colleagues (from a job twenty years earlier), my husband’s former business partner, his office manager, our former pastor, our favorite waiter from our favorite Chinese restaurant (yes, really!)… UNICO members, my parents’ longtime friends and even their longtime friends’ grown children.

Afterward, Cousin Maria invited everyone back to her house, where she’d amassed a feast that could have fed 50 people. Socializing was the last thing I wanted to do, but I went because it afforded me a way to reconnect with family after being so long away. What a blessing that was! It was a little like being in a beehive – a constant buzz of activity – surrounded by people who’d known and loved me my entire life. And there’s something oddly comforting about being amid people who all have the same nose. Then there was the food. Oh, the food! Pasta, meatballs, chicken… every manner of Italian food, on platters piled teeteringly high with assorted deliciousness. Did I mention that Maria must have, in a former lifetime, been an Army cook?

If you asked Maria why she did that, she’d probably say, “We’re Italian. We feed people.” But it was more than that – what she did was a tremendous ministry to our family. She reached out and took a tangible step to help when we were immobilized by grief.

If you’re on the periphery of a loved one’s grieving process, there are concrete ways to help. There’s always a plethora of hugs and the obligatory “I’m so sorry” murmurings. And everyone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Trouble is,  grieving folks are so numb at this point, they can barely think of what they might need, let alone conceive of articulating it – or reaching out to ask someone to help.

Fortunately, Jodi Whitsitt (a recently widowed mother of three) has provided a baker’s dozen of specific, real-world ways to help a grief-stricken loved one.

What are some of the ways you reach out to the newly bereaved in your life? Please share in the Comments section below.