“Tell me a story about Cookie Grandma, ” the voice of my 8-year-old daughter squeals next to me. My mom never met my fancy, fun loving, daughter who shares so many of her attributes. She passed away almost 4 years before my daughter was even born.
I stop for a moment. Hmmm. I wonder where to begin. “Well, she loved to bake.” And she did. In fact, she baked so much at Christmas time, sharing what she made with family and friends, that her oldest granddaughter, just 2 at the time, called her “Cookie”. And it stuck!
Is that all I had? She was more than just her great baking. If memories were like windows, I would crawl right through one just to spend a few more minutes with her.
I want my daughter to feel like she knows her. So, what would I tell her?
These vacant years were lonely. I longed to share my day, my life, with her. In turn, I got silence.
Even though time has numbed some of the pain, like clockwork it comes flooding back on key days. My mother’s birthday, the date she died, and Mother’s Day. Those days I fight hard to hold back tears.
“Your grandma loved Jesus.” She was the one who shared her faith with me over and over again. Not just at a young age, leading up to me walking an aisle and later being baptized. She shared it in a very real and tangible way. I saw faith in action through my mama’s life. She was the first person who I had ever met that didn’t just believe but knew that God still answers prayers. I was 17 and I saw it with my own eyes.
And maybe I bury these memories, maybe I make them so that they aren’t as easily seen because of the hurt. The loss. I don’t know. She was my shopping buddy, the person who prompted me to do my best (sometimes better than my best), to take chances, to follow my heart and to use my head. How do I relay this to my daughter?
I’m lost in thought.
Just like that, I’m eight. “Mama, can I go with you to the Cat’s Whiskers?” She nods, a huge smile spreads across her face. “Mama, I wanted to buy a little doll for my doll house but I only have a quarter in my purse.” She takes my hand and we walk through the door. The smell of dilly bread wafts through the air as we shop. I pick up a small trinket – a ceramic doll baby that will fit into my wooden doll house Daddy made me. How I longed for that tiny doll. Quietly she leans down to whisper that she was going to buy me a present for coming with her.
I opened the door and I was 10 years old. It was just days before Christmas and I had fallen down a staircase at my school and slashed open my chin. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a very bad concussion and needed several stitches for my wound. She came to the school and drove me to the ER. She held my hand as they stitched me and she nearly fainted at the sight of the blood. My mother was tough, but not that tough.
A window is opened and I walk up to it, faced pressed against the pane. We are fighting – oh the woes of the teenage years. The pain I must have caused her, I think, as I see our arguments. Even through those shameful yelling matches I don’t doubt her love for me. Her heart is overflowing and so are my tears.
Sometimes it felt like she and I were oil and water. Other times two peas in a pod. I didn’t run from her, I was stuck to her like glue. We tried to turn each other and instead it felt like we would break each other. Instead it just made us each stronger. How sweeter it is now to know that I am just like her.
And just like that, there are sirens. There is a tornado touching down in our town. I cry and run to take cover under a bed in our basement. Mom runs with me, as dad grabs a radio. As we hide under the mattress, we pray loudly begging God for his mercy, hands clasped, faces covered with tears.
The years march on and so do we. Mostly not in sadness or happiness but just in being. It is these years that we take for granted the life we live side by side each other.
Suddenly, I’m sitting by her bedside, for the very last time, she holds my hand as we talk about what is happening in her body. The cancer has spread and the doctors said there is no stopping it, this time. She asks me what I think Heaven is like. We talk about all we imagine it could be. I have no idea how hard this is going to be. This loss is greater than anything I could ever anticipate.
I crawl through the window of time and see my lonesome self waiting for the phone to ring. For three long years. Everytime that phone rings, sitting on my bedstand, the pain of the past sweeps over me, relentlessly, like ocean waves. The pain of the remembering she and I don’t live in the same place, anymore. The pain is sharper and heavier than I knew until it grows into normalcy and I try to forget.
But forgetting isn’t ever the answer. Forgetting doesn’t just numb the pain, it numbs the past. I reason that the past is where these memories of her live. With her joyous smile and laughing eyes.
I catch a glimpse of Christmas Eve 1999. I hold her hand in my right hand and my twinkling candle in my left. She looks at me, eyes gleaming, “Joy to the World,” is pouring from her lips. This is joy, I silently think.
For a second, I wonder if my mom could ever get a glimpse of this earth again. If she could see me, what would she think? Would she be proud of her littlest girl? She always told me I could be whoever I wanted to be and what I am is a wife and a mother. When the world looks away with a sigh of discontentment, I wonder for a second what she would think of a house full of six kids, a busy schedule, a joyful chaotic mixture of wonder and fatigue. I want to say, that I learned from the best. Though our scripts were very different in the amount and spacing of children, I can’t believe how much what she taught me comes out in what I teach my own children and how I live my own life.
And then, in an instant, the memory door opens and it is just days before Mothers Day 2007. I’m about to give birth to my first little girl. The doctors grab her as I push. He pulls her up to me and says, “Here comes the princess.” I lay there for a second wide eyed never realizing how much of a reflection of my mom she would be. I would see her in her smile. I would see her in her eyes. I would see her in her love for anything fancy, old-fashioned, and timeless. I would see her in her love for baking. I would see her in her love for God. I would see her in her kindness.
The years march quietly on. I see now that my mom’s life isn’t reserved for fanciful memories, locked away in my mind. I see now that my mom’s life is a legacy that she has left. Not only left for me and my sisters. No. She has left this for her entire sweeping lot of grandchildren. What strikes me more is that she is reaching generations that she never even met. She is doing this through her life that she lived. Even now, she lives on through her love.
So, I face the truth once and for all that Mother’s Day isn’t a day to be feared. It isn’t a day to struggle with the fact that I can’t mail her a card or a bouquet of fresh cut flowers. It isn’t a day to press through the memories or the bittnerness or the feelings of grief and mourning. It is a day to celebrate her – the person she was and the legacy she leaves behind.