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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The motherly nightie to hug

Eighty nine years ago my mother was born, most likely on a very cold day in the upper regions of North Dakota. While this day marks her birth, it also marks the fact I haven't seen her alive for two years. We had driven down to be with her in California on her 87th birthday and I can remember when we left, we got in the car and said our good-byes, buoyed by the fact we'd be back in May. As we coasted down the very long drive, I could see her out my rear view mirror, waving, getting smaller and smaller. She waited until we must have been out of sight to turn back to her apartment-and I too, watched, until I couldn't see her anymore. That scene comes to me over and over. If a movie director had orchestrated it, I would have begged him to make the car stop, so I could have rushed back and proclaimed I would stay another day, or month, or year. She died in April, suddenly.

I looked back at the grief blog I made in the days following her death. It is raw in the beginning, and it's almost heartbreaking to see how off kilter I was. I grabbed at anything that might get me to stand up in those first shocking days-like creating clay doll that I carefully placed under a quilt square she had made some 70 years earlier with her own mother-if I could not be with her to lay out her body I could do this from afar. The photograph of her nightie seems so ethereal and haunting, but still pure-it was the same nightie we found in her house, hanging where she left it the morning she entered the hospital for routine exams. I keep it in my bedside, taking it out to smell for her scent. There is still a little of her smell left, so in a way, the objects left behind must also be let go of, and taken off of the pedestal we put them on and just become normal again. But at this point, two years later, that darn nightie is like a shrine of sorts. I don't take it out much anymore, but sometimes I do, and I press it into my face.

The photo of her is one I keep on my computer. I used to go to it so often, but as one moves on, one carries the face and hands of the departed person deep in their inner psyche. Still, I will go to that photo and stoke her hair through the computer screen. She used to stroke my hair, even as I grew into a woman, and it always felt soothing. My mother was not a hugger or demonstrative person with "I love you" but she showed it in so many ways. I never doubted it.

So here are so many of us, motherless, marching on like dutiful humans-acknowledging we have a lump in our throats when we think of the mothers or fathers we've lost. We recite quotes sometimes, sharing our realization that it is the life we have now that is what our mothers would want us to focus on. And we do. But every now and then, like on a mother's would-be 89th birthday, I get to celebrate, but only after I sneak that nightie out of the draw and smell for my mother.