Nine years ago Mama’s life was slipping away. When I left the hospital late that afternoon I knew the end was near. My brother, Jim, called the next morning to tell us she was dying and if we wanted to be there we needed to go. I was already on my way out the door even before the phone rang.
That 30 minute drive to the hospital was long. Jim met us in the parking lot and as I got out of the car and walked toward him he shook his head and raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. I knew. We hugged and cried, there in the parking lot of Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah, Kentucky, while the barely dawn sky grew lighter by the moment.
We went up to the room and looked at her body, the shell that was left, the face that had smiled on us thousands of times and never would again. I was thankful she had not lingered in the state she had been in the last few days, but pained that I would never again have the feeling of a mother’s love except in memories.
Fortunately, I had been storing away memories for a very long time. When I would visit I would lie in bed in the mornings and listen to the sounds of my mother’s life. Yes, I was sleeping in. But I was also fiercely making mental notes so I could recall the feeling of being surrounded by a mother’s love because I knew once my mother was gone I would never have it again. We only get one chance at that feeling.
Mama was always my rock. She loved me like no one else ever has or ever will. You only have one mother. I knew, no matter what, that someone in the world loved me. I knew I was a priority to someone as long as she lived. And I knew once she was gone that feeling would be too, but I relish the memories of it.
And I remember… the sound of the freshly shelled peas my mom had picked from the garden that morning falling into the plastic bowl nestled in her lap as her thumb pried them out of their shell… the taste of fresh blackberries she had picked just for me… the selfless way she accepted whatever I wanted to try, even if it didn’t make sense to her. I remember the sound of her voice, calling my name, and my reaction to it. Sometimes I still hear it.
Mama died at 4:32 a.m. on Friday morning, May 11, 2001. We buried her two days later, on a beautiful Mother’s Day. She had one last mother’s day corsage made with three white roses, one for each of her children.
When I was a girl and we would go to church on Mother’s Day we would pick roses from the yard to wear. Red if your mother is living and white if she’s not. I’ve never worn one with white roses, but I did plant a white rose bush in the front flower bed of the house I bought later that same year I lost my mother. It has bloomed every year in time for Mother’s Day.
I’m not a mother, and I have no mother, so Mother’s Day is sometimes hard for me. Depending on how the dates fall there is a series of days that is difficult surrounding her death and funeral. I try to keep busy, but leave time for remembrance on her birthday, April 24, on through this time.
It’s a delicate balance and falling into the abyss of despair is an ever present danger. I can be sent over the edge by a harsh word from someone or a slight someone doesn’t even know they’re delivering, and today was a hard day in that regard. We never know another person’s pain.
Sometimes what we all want is to be heard, to be acknowledged, to know that we are accepted even with our pain. That despite the fact that we are weakened by the pain that people will still listen to us and take us seriously. But not every day offers that, and today certainly didn’t.
But one of the greatest gifts Mama gave me was teaching me to be happy. It’s just not today, but I’ll be happy again..