Monday, August 14, 2000

August 12

My mother would have been 75 today. It's not could, or even should, it's would have been. But the world couldn't have lost a kinder soul nor should the world have lost that gentle smile. But one thing I've learned about death and loss this past year is that fairness really isn't part of the equation.

This is by its nature one of the "big" days. Because of what it marks it is one of the "difficult" days. It's up there with the day she died, or the day that would have been her wedding anniversary with dad or all the other anniversaries marked so clearly now in my mind. The day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer... The day of the funeral... Holidays that won't be shared with her anymore. In a way the big days have been unbearable but in their own way the "little" days stab even deeper. Last fall I got my dream job, a job that took me a lot of sweat and blood and years and courage to attain- and when I got it, and when I did my best at it- it made me sad that my mom couldn't share in it. This year following her death has been made that much harder by losing another close friend. Two years in a row losing a dear friend. And it wasn't exactly as if I was "properly" equipped to handle either one. Made even more distressing because I can't turn to my mom to get a smile.

My mom loved to do crossword puzzles. She had books of word puzzles, and faithfully finished the puzzles in both our daily newspapers. Maybe it was her love and appreciation for words that inspired me to want to be a writer (and my sister too). I remember a revelation she had for me shortly after I finished college. She told me she always knew that I'd end up in journalism because it ran in our family- her brothers had worked on a newspaper.

For the past eight years I've written this weekly column for the newsletter. I know it's questionable how much work I put into this back page and I'd be the first to admit it varies. Some weeks the words flow out from somewhere else and all I have to do is make sure I stay out of the way. Other weeks it's like pulling teeth- what I want to say isn't any more clear than how I should say it. About a year into the newsletter I began bringing a copy home to my parents. They both faithfully read it although I'm not sure how much of my writing they actually understood. My mom rarely said anything or reacted to anything I wrote. But she did save each and every newsletter. My dad was much more responsive, asking questions and telling me when he thought I'd written something good. I miss sharing these words with my mom. The occasional week that I get it right, when I laugh and cry at what has come out of me- I wish so much I could still share that with her.

Her remains lie in a "wall" in a cemetery within biking distance from my house. My dad goes there nearly every day and makes sure that the little plastic holder attached to her square in the wall holds fresh flowers. When she was dying and we picked out her burial arrangements I pictured myself out there every day telling her about my day. It hasn't been that way. For a long time I couldn't bring myself to visit. I didn't know exactly why. My friend surprised me by telling me she wanted to come out with me. So one day we visited mom together. It later dawned on me why visiting was so hard. I'm a person haunted by association. When I'm in a place the past memories and ghosts are vivid. There are places I refuse to visit because they strongly remind me of something painful or happiness left behind. The cemetery isn't a place I have any memories of mom. The only time we were there together were when my grandparents and aunt were buried there. So to go there isn't to associate anything related to mom besides the aftermath of her death.

The anniversary marking her death we had a family get together at the cemetery. A few days before my friend was kind enough to go out there again with me to ease the associations. Since then I've visited much more often. Tonight I brought out a bouquet of flowers. I never can stay long but I'm glad I'm going out there more and more. It never feels like mom is there, or with me, and it's not like she didn't know that I would think about her often no matter where I was at, but it's still a way to symbolically acknowledge how much a part of my life she'll play until the day I die.

The loss remains enormous and the lessons learned exist in a vacuum as vivid as the lack of smiles that have existed since her death. As the words ring more and more hollow there is something I have absorbed about the loss: the most important thing my mom tried to teach me was to give it my best and to be as decent to others as I expected them to be to me. And as long as I can do that I will succeed on my own terms. Even if no one else sees that in quite the same way as she did.

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