I had a dream about Mom last night.
In the dream, I was looking at an old photograph of her and then instantly the picture turned into her. She was alive. The warm sun was shining behind her and her face was bathed in gold.
The feeling was utterly peaceful. She just sat beside me on the bed looking right into my eyes. And she was smiling. A huge, beautiful smile. I awoke at 2 am and I felt her smile all the way through me.
And then the aching hole in my chest.
My mother’s birthday is today, she would have been seventy-eight. This will be a tough day for me. I feel her absence deep in my gut because this will always be her day. And she would have wanted to be here, I just know it.
She would want to see what bright new outfit Dad had bought her from Talbot’s. She’d be looking forward to a fancy meal with her best friend Sue and my Dad. And she’d be eagerly awaiting the phone calls from her kids and grandkids that would come in all day long.
And receiving her favorite things of all – the birthday cards.
Mom was always the one handing out gifts to everyone, expecting so little from us. But she was my favorite person to buy for because she appreciated every little present so much. She would rave about any tiny thing I gave her. And she possessed such grace in the way she received them.
But it was what I wrote to her that she appreciated the most, I think. She always said I loved your card as if the gift was secondary.
And she truly meant it, she kept all of our letters and cards in a dresser upstairs. I remember when I first discovered that drawer I finally understood the immensity of her gratitude.
When I was little, she taught me the old-fashioned art of writing a thank you note. It had to have a format and be personal as well as brief. But it was much more than that: she taught me how to be grateful. Even when I didn’t feel grateful.
Because by sitting down to write and thinking about a gift you received, after a while you started to feel thankful.
For the first August 7th in my life, I can’t send a birthday card or write a poem for her to read today. The pain is still fresh and I won’t find any comfort today.
But these well-worn lines from W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” express it best:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘[S]he is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
[S]he was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
And so the days have ticked by since last September and I can’t stop them. I click through my photo albums to relive all the times that Mom and I shared. And the odd thing is, I can’t find very many images.
Because Mom was often in the background, she was the one busy making it all happen. We were pushed front and center, her children and grandchildren. But she was at the heart of every moment.
Like in my dream, the sun shone through her and onto everything around her. She was everywhere in my world and now nowhere at all.
And since her death, the memories are fading and the distance between us grows greater as I move into her place on this inevitable timeline. It’s cruel and incomprehensible, but it is the only thing that I know is true.
A memory can’t last forever and neither can I. The best I can do is sit for awhile and write this empty blog, and just feel thankful.
And say Happy Birthday, Mom. I am so very grateful that you were here.