Summer winds were beginning to blow as spring was fading fast. The flowers were in full bloom, thirsty for daily attention. The pool sparkled, clear blue as the cornflower sky. The backyard, pristine, ready for summer fun. But instead we faced an unexpected battle; one we weren’t prepared to wage. We quickly mustered our strength and ammunition, but our enemy was swift and formidable. We had been outsmarted, outplayed. Our hope and desperation fell short. Vibrancy to frailty in the blink of an eye, as the unfathomable had occurred. It was unbelievably difficult to comprehend.
The days kept their normal stride. Life all around us did not stop, even in the midst of my world coming to a screeching halt. Despite all our efforts, my mama died. She died the first Saturday in August. August, the month of my birth, on the day I gave birth, just 14 years ago. It was cruel. The last gut punch in what was the fight of our lives. That kind of fight leaves scars, war wounds, a wrinkled heart, a tormented mind, an amnesia of sorts. Waking each day only to remind myself that my mama is gone. My night sky forever changed, my guiding light dimmed, my safety net frayed.
The memories wash over me. Some like 10-foot waves, tsunamis, knocking me down. I am drowning. Others rolling gently, constantly. They comfort me, rock me to sleep. I want to remember because I cannot bear to forget.
I can picture myself as a little girl in my bedroom with the little pink flowers on the wall. My mama is lying beside me as I often got scared in the middle of the night. She awakened easily and we had a routine. I feel warm and cozy; the pink lady lamp is aglow with light. The seven dwarfs are on a shelf overhead, her pink elephant piggy bank in the room next door; I can see it.
I can smell the lemon Pledge on a warm summer Saturday. My mama is dusting the mahogany tables. A gentle breeze blows hot air through the open window. It is familiar. A sweet smell of my childhood.
I can taste the cherry Cokes, the frozen yogurt, warm brownies, and grandma’s cornbread dressing. She made that dressing long after my grandma was gone because she knew it was one of my favorites. I don’t know if it will ever taste the same.
I flip through the slideshow in my mind of family trips in the Caravan, makeovers at Lake Lure, Disney World meets Duke basketball, McDonald’s stomachaches, “whose idea was it to come here?” and that trip to the ER when I got kicked by a horse. Each trip was a Griswold adventure, yet perfect in every way.
Our annual beach trips I hold dear. I can see the pelican flying overhead and feel the warm sun on my face. My face changes, growing from child to adult, but my mama’s face seems to stay the same. I am laughing in the infamous home video as she is unable to climb the dock. Her hair is long and wavy. She is laughing too. Years later, I can feel the sea spray at the water’s edge. She is holding my children’s hands, no longer just mine, but theirs as well.
The difficult times are there too, in the shadows of my mind. The text messages and phone calls fervently hoping for improvement are chronicled on my phone. I was desperate to help, her “beautiful advocate.” Ironically, Beautiful was the last musical we would see just a month before. She was perfect, healthy, “beautiful.” How was I to know?
People tell me I look like her, sound like her. I find sadness in this revelation. Maybe because I want so badly to see her, hear her for myself. I long for her to call my name. I long to see her face. I want most to hug her and feel that warm motherly embrace. One more day would not be enough. I look in the mirror; I do not see her. I do not hear her voice in my own.
But I do see her hands. The mental picture of my mother’s hands is a vivid one. I remember holding her hand on the day she died. It is a painful yet beautiful memory as those hands that raised me took on a bluish hue. What was left of her life on earth leaving through her fingertips. I could still hold her hand, but she could no longer hold mine. Those hands cared for me, loved me, and protected me.
Sometimes I look down at my own and they feel like hers. I rub my children’s heads when they have headaches and I remember her doing the same for me. I can feel her motherly love run through my hands, and in some ways I can still feel that tangible connection.
It was a beautiful life. One filled with joy and laughter, friendship, and love. I can’t imagine how she must have felt. The shock, the realization that all good things must come to an end. The Duke basketball games she’ll never see, the grandchildren she’ll never watch grow, the shopping trips we’ll never take. It is too much sadness to take on; the life not lived.
I find comfort in her clothes, her smell. Many items we chose together. I call her name but she doesn’t answer. Birthdays pass without her song. It’s all uncharted territory, living life without your mom and the promise of unconditional love. Losing the one who loves you most, you feel like less. Less of what makes you, you. Less sure, less secure, less loved.
In the midst of all the uncertainty, I search for my mother’s guidance. I get in the car with the plan to call her and it hits me like a ton of bricks: she is not there. Lukas made the baseball team, she doesn’t know. Wren is doing Girls on the Run, she doesn’t know. I had my wisdom teeth out and she didn’t call. We are in a national crisis and I can’t call her.
She would be worried about me. It is a very lonely feeling, missing the one person who cares about your well-being over all others. It can bury you if you let it. Some days it feels like it just might.
Yet I am myself a mother. I am a wife, a sister, and I am still a daughter. I must continue on, march forward and live my life. I carry my mother’s love with me to give me strength. I am my mother’s daughter.