I hate Mother's Day.
My mother died two years ago, on May 15th, of ovarian cancer, at age 61. The day she died was the day after Mother's Day, 2000. She would have been 62 on May 31st.
She was my favorite person in the entire world. She was funny, charming, beautiful, incredibly charismatic. She taught me how to draw, how to paint, how to see. Any time I see beauty in the world I see it through her eyes.
She was the epitome of the Fun Mom. She went to a play with me and my sister when we were both in high school, wearing her jeans and high tops, and they gave us 3 student tickets. We all laughed. She had the most amazing ability to find a way to make to best of any situation, even when times in my family were difficult.
I miss her every day. I miss her more at this time of year, when the spring coming out makes me remember the spring she died. Sitting by her hospital bed, at my parents house, and her looking out the window and wishing she could be in the garden. Asking me to weed, so she could watch. I see a garden, and I miss her. I hear a funny story, and I think "I have to remember to tell that to Helen on Sunday". Then I remember that I can't. We talked almost every Sunday through thick and thin, and the phone still doesn't ring on Sunday in a way that makes the house echo with its silence.
I remember her telling me about one summer day when my father's alcohol consumption was out of control. She was walking up our street to the corner store, and stopped to get herself an ice cream cone. As she walked back down in the dripping hot Washington D.C. summer, she thought to herself, "this is all I need. This moment is perfect".
I remember easter, and her watching her two granddaughters, both two, toddle around grasping easter eggs and chortling. I remember injecting anti-nausea drugs into a tube, when she was choking, so she could fall asleep. I remember turning up the morphine when she was in pain, wondering if this was the dose that was going to make her stop breathing instead of just provide ease. I remember seeing her get thinner every day, suddenly seeing her look like my grandmother, going from 60 to 75 to 90 in a matter of days. I remember her hair all falling out, and her covering her head with rub-on tattoos, to make us all laugh. I remember thinking about shaving my head in sympathy with her. And then again, and now, in mourning her.
I remember her saying "I feel like I should be saying something profound..." and both of us laughing. And later, my telling her that our love wasn't made up of profundities, it was made up of little things - a cup of tea, a long and rambling conversation, a shared book, an art lesson, a walk around the garden, a sketch on a napkin. A shared sympathy, a sense that here was love, unconditional. I remember her telling me I was her best friend. I remember telling her, in response, that she was also my best friend.
I remember visiting gardens, being amazed with how she could name every plant and tree. Once I started working in the woods, I remember taking her on a hike and her admiring the fact that I knew all the wildflowers. I remember going on camping trips almost every weekend in upstate New York, starting at age 5, and being lured to keep hiking with sour balls, and the promise of chocolate at the end of the hike. (No chocolate during the hike, it will make you too thirsty.) I realize now that my first camping trip with Tess, we fed her sour jelly bellies about every 100 yards. She hiked 3 miles, at age 2. A family tradition I didn't even realize I was carrying on, at the time.
I have the camping sketchbook now. Sketches of me and my sister, captions like "Chrissy holding a bouquet of 'pinky ways', so named by her". "The girls played in the creek all day, building moss boats and getting wrinkly toes". Many descriptions of the food: dinner was hamburger helper, potatoes, the grown-ups had whiskey sours, yummy! The trip where it snowed. The trip with the wild strawberries. the trip where we accidentally camped in a cow pasture, and were woken in the morning by very curious milk cows. The first trip in Virginia, where we all walked by the most enormous copperhead I've ever seen.
I remember her dying with incredible grace, and her making her going easier for us. I hope I made her going easier for her.
I remember people calling to talk to her, and they would remark that it sounded like she was having a party. She would reply "We are, I wanted to have the wake before I died. You should come and join us!" And she meant it. The first week after she was home from the hospital, we cooked dinner every night for anywhere from 10 to 14 people. She couldn't eat, but we would all take turns keeping her company and filling her in on the dinner conversation.
I recently wrote a note to all my housemates. "I miss my mom so much right now, I feel as though my whole body is covered with bruises. Forgive me if I've been a space cadet lately, its because I'm out to lunch. Or maybe vice versa." They all read it at various times, and hugged me.
Please understand, if you wish me a happy Mother's Day, and I don't respond, it's not because of you. It's because of a phone that doesn't ring, a cup of tea that will never be drunk, a garden that can never be shared, a granddaughter that will never know a grandmother. I love being a mom...but
I hate Mother's Day.
dona nobis pacem, Helen Temple Burling Ottaway, 1938 - 2000.
Now it just says....
/me misses Helen.