Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I See Her
(My dad, mom and mother in law, with my two oldest, a year before she died.)
It is cold, it is raining, and I am huddled by my minivan, pumping gas. I avoid watching the pump, knowing the outrageous escalating numbers will only bring down a perfectly pleasant day. I watch the traffic flow by on my right then peek at my boy in the back seat, content with his new Happy Meal toy. My head turns to the left and I catch a glimpse of a woman inside the gas station store. My heart seems to stop. I can’t find my breath. The cold pump nozzle begins to shake in my hand. The woman in the store looks just like my mom.
She walks like my mom. She is small and stout, with over-permed curly hair the same color as my mom’s. She is carrying a huge soda refill cup exactly like the one my mom had. But there is no way she is my mom. My mom died thirteen years ago, and I’ll never see her again.
And yet I do. I see her all the time.
It never occurred to me, in the desperate grief stricken weeks after her death, that she was not truly gone. My brain worked hard to understand how she could be perfectly healthy, settling into her new role of grandma one day and collapse on the country dancing floor the next. It didn’t compute that she could leave this planet when she had just turned 50 and was in the best shape of her life. I tried to make peace with the finality of the casket, the gaping hole in the ground, and what the backhoe did once we all left the cemetery. I assumed it all meant she was gone, forever gone.
But then came the dreams. They were vivid and real and I would wake up confident that my old life was back in order. One was so ridiculous, that we dug her up after six months and she was still alive in the casket, so relieved we had saved her, that rational minds would dismiss it. But my irrational longing for her secured its validity and I was heartbroken when I awoke to find it was not true.
Just months later I began to catch other glimpses of her. Like the gas station sighting, I suddenly saw a familiar face, a familiar body type, down the aisle from me at the grocery store. For a split second I knew it was her. Then reality reminded me of the truth. A car passed through the intersection while I waited for the light ahead of me to turn green and I swore the woman behind the wheel was my mother. It was as if my heart were convinced that she was still out there, somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.
In the passing years I began to see other signs of her. I looked down in a quiet moment at church and her hands were in my lap. The wedding ring on the left hand was the one my husband gave to me so many years ago, but the folds and wrinkles of the hands were definitely hers. I realized that wrinkles on my hands are one of the few signs of aging I will not fight. So much of her is gone from me, but the wrinkles in my own hands will always be there to remind me of those hands that cradled my newborn daughter's head and wiped away tears when she learned this child had been named after her.
Two years after her death I began a part time job and I got to work with her. The first co-worker I was introduced to was my mother’s age, my mother’s body type, my mother’s nurturing personality, and unbelievably shared my mother’s name. I looked forward to going to work on the days that Jane and I worked together. For two years I soaked up her loving nature, re-living glimpses of my mom.
My children are becoming teenagers now and I miss her on a whole new level. She would love the stories my sisters and I have about the joys and challenges that we are witnessing from the other side of the generational gap. She has been gone a long time and has missed a lot of my life and my children’s lives. But somehow I still feel her and sense her presence.
As another Mother's Day rolls around I will celebrate with my children. I will send a card to my mother in law. And my heart will ache for my own mother, gone now for so long. I know I am a better mom because I miss her. I truly understand how much a mother means to her children. And through the years I have seen that she is not fully gone. She is around me, encouraging me and nurturing me, in the most creative ways. I cannot hug her and I cannot call her on the phone when I think of her in the middle of the day.
But I am thankful, so thankful, that at least I can still see her.