She walks beside me all day and I know she is there, even when I am not specifically thinking about my mother. She is buckets of sadness and boxes of guilt. She is snippets of a symphony; she is a smell of White Shoulders and baby powder. She is an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile, until the corners of her mouth break up and into a full-fledged grin that shines from mouth and eyes. She is the memory of my mother’s hands, so much like my own, long, thin fingers with slight swelling in the right hand from years of typing.
She is grief.
People ask me how I’m doing and I say fine. I am doing fine. I feel too guilty to say otherwise. My mother got her four score and seven, and then nine more. She died five weeks short of her 80th birthday. She was sick a very long time, but in her long life enjoyed love and family and friends. When she was sick—both as a young woman and an old woman—she had the hands of loving family embracing her, caring, loving, and not judging.
I look around the world and I see that she is present with so many people, but she is new at my side. How could I not know what she means? I feel that I’ve been so unaware of others for so long, and only in her presence and the kindnesses shown to me by others during my recent loss have I learned what she means.
She comes with a big helping of guilt.
How can I grieve what is lost when we were so blessed? I look around and see my friends who have lost spouses in their fifties and sixties. This is not the right way of things. But of course that is a ridiculous statement, for there is no right way of things. For me to believe that there is a right way of things makes me think there is a vengeful God. I don’t believe that God picks and chooses with some ethereal dartboard.
While she is always present, my conscious awareness of her is fleeting. Recently I wore a special necklace to a community event. The necklace belonged to my grandmother and was passed down to my mother. I still have pictures of Mom on my phone, wearing the necklace at Christmas time. Perhaps it is too soon, and I should just put it away until it feels right.
At the grocery store I come across the display of Mother’s Day cards and I’m deep in that well of sadness again, just for a moment I remember that she is gone. This Mother’s Day will be so odd; I’m like the top candy in a Pez dispenser. Now the matriarch, I pop to the top. I’m not ready for that role. Even after nearly thirty years of marriage, I feel like a girl not a Mrs.
When grief gets into my head, I shoo her away with happy thoughts. The burden of certain memories of decline, suffering, and pain are pushed away, buried with my mother. They will always be there, but I consciously work on celebrating a life well lived.
On Saturday I will buy an Easter lily, the overly fragrant symbol of Christian hope and resurrection. Sunday I will go to church with my family and put it at the altar with the other plants, all symbols of loss for others, knowing that this is exactly what my mother would have done.