Mother's Day is this next Sunday. Those who have mothers still living honor them in various ways. Families gather to spend the day. People who have lost their mothers sometimes find it a painful day that brings more sadness than joy. One way to make it a happier day is to dwell on the good memories, the things which you will never forget about your mom. Even those times when she scolded and punished you--all for your own good, of course.
You might devote a section of your Memory Book/Family Stories collection to your mother and next month your father. After all, they were a pretty big part of your life. Even if your mom is still living, you can begin writing those special stories about the things you love about her, the funny times, the periods when you felt like she was your #1 cheerleader. You might consider doing it now and presenting her with what you've written. It would mean more to her than the biggest bottle of French perfume in the land.
I'm going to post a few of my own Mother's Day memoir stories on the blog today and the next two. Maybe reading them will serve as a trigger or writing prompt for you. The first one is about the feeling of losing the mother you love and how you can keep her with you. It was written about 10 years ago. If you would like to hear me reading this personal essay, click here.
Finding My Mother
The year is 1943, and I am four years old. The Woolworth Five and Dime in our neighborhood has a creaky wooden floor and smells like penny candy, sickeningly sweet. I walk up one aisle and down another, heart beating fast, until a clerk leans down. “Do you need help, honey?”
My lip quivers, and I voice my fear. “Where is my mama? I can’t find her.” Like magic, my mother appears at the end of the aisle, her steps hurried, my baby brother in her arms. Relief washes over me when we are reunited. She reassures me with simple words. “Don’t worry. I’d never leave you.” But I stay close to her the rest of the day.
War rages in Europe and Asia, but I am oblivious to that situation. My world revolves around my young and pretty mother. She provides everything a four-year-old requires. She reads to me, hears my bedtime prayer, and coaxes me to eat. I develop a sense of humor because she makes laughter a part of our everyday life.
Fast forward sixty-one years, and I have lost my mother again. I can’t find her, even though I know where she lives. She is eighty-six and resides far from me in a nursing home in North Carolina, but the mother I know and love is gone.
Macular degeneration denies her the pleasure of reading. In years past, she devoured novels, fit newspapers and magazines into her daily routine. She celebrated the release of every new John Grisham book.
Physical ailments curtail her activities, and depression erases the keen sense of humor that marked her character until very recently. The weekly letters stop when she loses the ability to pick up a pen and put words on paper. For years, we chatted on the phone—passing on family news, discussing world events, politics, movies, books and more. Now, she refuses to have a phone in her room at the nursing home, effectively cutting herself off from those who love her. Is it because a phone is a sign of permanency? She tells my brother she will be home again as soon as she gains some strength. She knows, and we know, that possibility is unlikely, but no one is strong enough to voice that thought.
She no longer possesses the sharp wit she once displayed regularly or the ability to entertain us with stories about her childhood in an Iowa coal mining town. Mental confusion blurs her days, and her powers of concentration are vastly diminished.
Yes, I’ve lost my mama again. But I’m not four years old. I’m an adult who signed up for Medicare last month, a senior citizen who misses her mother. I pray for her daily. I don’t pray that she will be miraculously well and strong again, for I know the aging process would not allow it. Instead, I pray that she will have comfort and peace in these final years, months, or days that remain. Even so, I feel lost again, and there is no helpful Woolworth clerk to show concern. My mother does not make a magical appearance this time.
Health concerns of my own postpone a planned trip to visit Mother, but little by little I am finding her right here in my own home. My kitchen overflows with reminders. Her blue enamel roasting pan, a painted china plate, a serving bowl and more trigger memories of happy times. The other day I picked up a rolling pin while looking for something in a cupboard, and images of my mother rolling pie pastry, sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls moved in waves through my mind and brought a smile to my face. She learned from her mother and passed the love of baking on to me. My mother will always be with me when I bake.
Her presence is strong when I skim through my recipe box where her handwriting covers dozens of recipe cards. I linger on some to keep her close a little longer. One card has a note on the top. “Mom’s Date Muffins”, a recipe passed on to her from my grandmother. They are still a favorite of mine, and when I make them, I feel my mother and also my grandmother near. On a recipe shared by my wacky, but lovable, aunt, Mother wrote “Viv’s best cookie.”
Family photographs decorate various rooms in my home, and photo albums help me relive the years when my mother played a vital part in my life. The camera caught her laughing, holding babies, traveling with my dad. Pictures taken with her treasured older brother capture the joy she found in his company. A surprise eightieth birthday party is re-lived in an album of its own. I can wander through my home and find her in these photos whenever I feel the need to be with her.
In some respects, the vibrant mother I once knew slips farther and farther away, but these reminders of the past bring her close. There’s no need to ever feel like a lost child again. On that long-ago day in Woolworth’s she told me she’d never leave me. I know now that she spoke the truth. A part of her will always be with me.