Back in February I bought my daughters each a pink hyacinth plant. When my mother was alive, she did the same for me all through my twenties. She was obsessed with spring flowers because their arrival on the scene coincided with her birthday at the end of March. As crocuses poked out of the ground, she would treat herself to pink tulips and make sure we had a sign of spring blooming on our kitchen counters.
She died a few weeks before we closed on our first house. Every subsequent year, I became a little more obsessed with planting new bulbs, expanding the reach of the spring flowers in the beds that flanked the front steps. These bravest of little flowers mystify me every year with their ability, despite challenging odds, to return. They know what to do, they simply push, move up, towards the sun.
She has been gone for ten years.
She would have been 70, she would have been 70. Those words have been swirling all month, and as her birthday approached in late March, words organized themselves into a sentence. And in the quiet moments of the last few days, that sentence has run in a loop through my mind.
I cannot bend my mind around the way the time space continuum has tricked me into believing so much time and hardly any time has passed. When you lose someone suddenly and before their time, you have to marshal all of the memories you ever had and then imagine all of the memories you might have had, and hold those together in a coherent story because the physical relationship with that person is over.
I have had a decade to unpack how I feel about this loss. When I realize how much time has passed, my next instinct is to mourn her loss all over again. To drudge up the lost time and the foregone connections and the things I’ll never know because so much of my life hadn’t happened yet so I didn’t bother to ask about hers.
I have worked tirelessly to reframe my mother’s death in my mind. I refuse to wish she was here or to bemoan the things she’ll never see because that doesn’t change the fact that she’s gone. And honestly, it makes me sad. Of course, I wish she was here. But her presence would defy logic because she’s gone. That won’t change.
I draw no strength from feeling low. I have tried to focus on the things about my mom did for me to make me into me. And while we may have bickered or disagreed about some things, she did some incredible things to build me into the person I am today. I don’t know if she had a personal philosophy but she has helped me build mine.
“You and your sister are the most important things I have ever done in my life,” she told us ad nauseum as children. Until I became a mother, I had no idea what she meant. And years ago, I admitted that one deep regret I harbor around her death is not being able to tell her how much knowing that meant to me. I look at my own girls and think about how she looked at us, and sometimes I feel like it’s her eyes seeing them and not mine. And I am so relieved to know that she saw us the way I see them.
“When you enter a room, you make an impression,” she told me once. She could have been giving me generalized life advice–as moms are wont to do–but I always thought she meant that I was someone who could make others see me. When I was younger, I was self-conscious about my height. Knowing that people saw me, I wanted to hide worrying I stuck out in all the wrong ways. I’m older now, and I wear my height fine. Whenever I am about to enter a new space, I invoke her words, straighten my shoulders, and enter with purpose.
“Being a mom is lonely sometimes so be sure to make friends,” she told me once when I was younger. She loved being married but I know she loved the relationships she had with a small group of women. She met many of my friends over the years, and she adored them. I have followed her advice and added to my village since them. She would love the women I have found as a mother. They are sharp and smart and supportive and loving and I know those new friends would have loved her, too.
“You and your sister just have to work it out,” she told us over and over again when I am sure she fielded call after call mediating territory between the two of us. When we lost her, we lost our mediator and it took us some time, but she would be immeasurably proud of the team she raised. My sister and I had to have a long talk several years ago. I remember pacing the floor, tracing the floorboards with my bare toes, laying out hurt feelings and frustrations and worries. And we agreed that we’re taking our family forward because we’re a team. And to this day, we can bicker and even argue but we work it out because that’s what she told us to do.
“You are relentless,” she admitted many times, often sighing deeply at how exhausting I was being. I have only begun as a woman of almost forty to embrace my Type-A tendencies. I imagine as a little girl, a brooding adolescent, and a driven young adult, that I was an exhausting force. I know now how much I expect from myself and from the people around me and to be in that orbit is surely taxing to others. She never gave up on me, even when I was simply too much to take.
“Life is not fair,” was her most common refrain. It wasn’t fair when her life ended and there have been countless injustices, great and small suffered since. And yet, that’s it. There’s nothing left to argue.
She would have been 70. And all I want is for her to know I’m okay.
I’m better than okay.
To know that somewhere, someone loved you–even if you have love in your life. To know that someone valued you even before you could love them back. To know exactly how someone perceived you and that you had nothing unsaid between you.
I am indebted to her.
We live in a different house now. It took me a year to find our spring flowers, and without them to mark the coming of spring, I felt a little lost. I could not find the right place to put bulbs in the ground and got lazy last year after I picked up spring flowers at a garden show. It seems I neglected a whole pot of bulbs.
Last weekend, my husband, in closing things down for winter, called out to me in the house, “Rachel, you have a whole bucket of bulbs here. They’re sprouting.” Though I had finally picked a spot in the yard for them to live, I never put them to bed at the end of last season.
Sprouting, growing, even without soil around them, without the cushion of something familiar or comfortable. It was remarkable.
They are relentless.
This is the most beautiful writing I think I’ve ever seen from you. I just love it. Can you turn this into a Shabbat teaching? Hope seders were good!
– Ilana http://www.ilanagarber.com #GarberStrong
Let’s talk. Thanks for the high compliment….