My mother was my first true love.
As i sit and try
to write memories of her, as her daughter, there are obviously too many
to list. There are carnivals, picnics, camping,
vacations at the beach. Memories by lakes, on lakes, and
even, once, of evacuating our truck as it sank into a lake. (I'm
looking at you, Dad.) There are 35 years--and counting--of an extraordinary woman occupying a great deal of the space in my heart.
Mom had a favorite song and it said:
"Let there be peace on earth....and let it begin with me."
But it was more than a song for her, it was how she lived.
It is true that after people die, there is the tendency to make them seem like angels. But when it
comes to Mom, it is hard to overstate the kindness of her heart and spirit.
Simply look at the things she loved and one can feel her warmth.
She loved color.
She loved to sew.
She loved to garden,
She loved kids.
She loved to make clothes and quilts and Christmas stockings and curtains for her
friends, her neighbors, her grandchildren, and even people she'd never met. For the lucky out there that have something that mom made, you have only to pick it up and you'll be able to feel the love with which it was made.
Mom loved children, and the whole world in which they live…
She loved making childhood magical. She told me, shortly before she passed away, that my childhood was the happiest time of her life. Of course, I already knew this in my bones, because Mom was one of those rare souls who was able to hold onto an innocence
of heart all her life, which enabled her to fully enter and embrace a child's spirit. We were always together; she didn’t just parent me, she inhabited my childhood with me. There are myriad pictures of mom playing with me (and later, my children) where she is on the ground, or in the ocean, or on all fours.... on our level, truly enjoying the beauty that is a child's world.
This essence of simplicity made her extraordinary and quietly powerful. She was a rarity in
that she truly was a blessing to everyone she met, above all to my
children and me.
When I had an early fascination with fashion, she began making the clothes I had designed in my head. As young as age 7, i would draw, and she would manifest my dream
clothes. "I have this great idea for a dress made of cotton dolphins
jumping though the crests of waves" I'd exclaim, and days later, she'd
have me dolpin-clad and ready to be relentlessly mocked at school. But
always bespoke, perfectly tailored, and completely original.
For my first communion I refused to wear white (a chilling omen for my parents). Instead of insisting I wear white and buy me a dress like all the other girls, mom sewed me an elaborate, beautiful blue gown – and I wore it proudly, happy to be the odd one out.
Even though mom held on to an innocence and purity of heart, she was strong.
She survived 6 years of cancer, and 42 years of Dad’s driving. True to form, her strength came not from anger, but from love.
As the story was told to me: Mom and Dad were called to the principal’s office on my second day of Kindergarten. They thought I was in trouble already, but that wasn’t the case. Another child on the playground had asked me whether I was black or white, the answer to which, at age 5, I did not know or understand.
“You’ve got to tell Rachel the difference between black and white,” the principal told mom.
“So, what is the difference?” responded Mom calmly.
Needless to say, the meeting ended there.
Many years later, Mom’s strength of spirit was on full display again when she was diagnosed with cancer and doing chemo. I happened to be pregnant (not shocking, as I am more or less pregnant 90% of the time), but as ever, she put a chance to love and support me ahead of her own struggles. She scheduled her chemo treatments around my pregnancy, so she could fly to Utah and be there for her last grandson’s birth – as she was for all her grandchildren. But when my fourth child was born, he was barely breathing and fighting for his life. And still, Mom was there, despite the fact that she was also fighting for her own. She arrived just as the Life Flight team burst in to save him, and took him away. She took me home and slept near me, and held me, her baby, as I was crushed by having to come home from the hospital with empty arms. Despite the weakness of chemo, Mom was still there to give me her strength. (Spoiler alert: the kid lived, he’s here screaming/destroying something valuable...)
I can say I even stood to benefit from her few shortcomings. Mom was a terrible cook. You’d bite into a muffin and Bisquik dust would fill your lungs, leaving you discretely gasping for breath, trying not to hurt her feelings. When we would sit down to have dinner as a family, it was sometimes difficult to
hear each other over the crunch of the charred lasagna. If you heard Dad say, “This is FANTASTIC,” it meant I had cooked that night, and Mom
was glaring at him from across the table. It’s astonishing that a woman so full of love could be so cruel to cream of mushroom soup: the words "tuna noodle casserole" still trigger my adrenal glands for me to flee immediately.
But even in this, she inadvertently taught me a love of cooking that I cherish and can share with
her grandchildren today.
("There is not peace in the kitchen; PLEASE let it begin with someone else.")
Just a few weeks ago I asked Mom if she had any regrets.
“Only one,” she replied, “not being able to see my grandchildren grow up.”
Mom never saw the Taj Mahal, or traveled to Asia, or saw a lion in the wild. Her adventures were not about places, they were about people. She didn’t regret where she had not been, or what she had not done. She only regretted the time not spent with those she held so dear. Shortly before she passed away, Mom wrote letters to her grandchildren. In them, she praised each of their individual strengths and beauty, and she promised that if they listened closely, and got really quiet, they would be able to hear her and feel her with them.
She hung a poem on my wall as a child which still hangs by my bed today. It is the perfect poem for an adopted child to see everyday. It reads:
Not flesh of my flesh,
Not bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart….
But in it.
She always told me that being adopted meant I was double loved, or "twice loved". Thanks to her, I always felt that way. And when I was 23 and wanted to find my birth mother, she wanted to find her too. She never felt threatened; there was never any hesitation or caution. And when I found her, and they finally met, my Mom’s first words to my birth mom were “thank you so, so much for my daughter.” And that isn’t just because I’m such a prize (wink), it’s because she was.
Mom lived Love-first. She cherished the opportunity to be grateful and say thank you. She considered it a privilege to have the chance to love me.
She left her beautiful handprint in my soul. The certitude of being
loved by her was something precious beyond words. And though i
didn't come into the world in her arms, she held me there my whole
life. She held me there till her very last breath, and there is no one
who has been given a greater gift.
It is so very sad that she is gone, somewhat irrevocably sad for myself, my father, my aunt, and others who held her so very dear. And yet, we do not have to say goodbye.
We can all live by her legendary kindness.
We can all try and love-first as she did.
We can let peace begin with us.
Thank you, mom, always and forever. You're my angel. I love you.