I spent another afternoon in my mother’s house, writing. With soft music playing in the background, a cinnamon candle burning, and copious amounts of tea, I wrote for a good three hours. I have managed to accomplish as much in the last three weeks sitting at my mother’s table as I did in the previous three months. Whether it is being surrounded by her creative spirit, or the lack of Internet connection, I am not sure, but I can see how I will be able to complete my book with ease by the end of April if I continue my mini writing retreats at the old homestead.
After each writing session I find myself wandering the nearly empty rooms, looking for something, but not sure what. Deep down inside, I know what I search for, but I feel foolish even writing it.
I want a message from my mother. Or at least a direct connection of some sort.
We all do, I think.
One of my sisters has gone through all the photo albums my mother left behind, sorting and scanning pictures to share with us. Another is meticulously typing out the contents of my mother’s calendar/journals for all of us to read on our family web page. We have incorporated our mother’s things into our own homes with great pleasure. Her paintings and wood carvings are more than just simple art; they are a reminder of the beautiful woman that our mother was. It has been almost four months and the ache of her absence has intensified for all of us this winter.
While I drove home today, I fought the mounting sadness that has plagued me since November 3rd. I did not find a message in the books I rifled through today or the empty drawers or closet I peeked into. There was no note taped to the back of a picture, no little piece of paper that my mother had written her secret desires on.
We are luckier than most. We had the previous two months to prepare ourselves for her death and to show her how much we loved her, and we had each other to lean on when the time came. We have two books she wrote for us, her calendars, letters and photos.
And we have this:
I gave my mother this leather bound Memory Book for Christmas in 1985 and she dutifully filled it out. It took her almost three years to do so. The last entry is dated March 25, 1988 and is in response to the question: What do you look forward to in the future? Must be knowing my Mother may die soon is something I don’t look forward to but can happen any time at her age of 91. My mother says she looks forward to it.
I clearly remember thanking my mother and hugging her when she handed me this completed book.
I didn’t read it then. I don’t know why. Instead, I promptly stashed it away. I still hadn’t read it when we moved here three years ago. In fact, I nearly forgot all about it. Perhaps I was just waiting for the right time.
I decided on the way home that today would be the right time.
I knew where I’d put it. I’d stashed it in the back of my lovely rose cabinet in the entryway. I dug it from behind several photo albums and flipped through it.
This book consists of a question and answer format, with many pages in between for memories not related to the questions. I remember being a little disappointed that my mother hadn’t filled all the pages, but now I see that she’d answered over 50 questions, some with two or three-page answers. Other questions she skipped over entirely, like this one: What plans do you have for future travel? One she answered with one single word. That question was: What would you like your epitaph to read? Her answer was: Catholic.
Now that I have these messages from my mother to read, the connection that I have yearned for, I’m not sure I can bear to read it. I started to, but after I read the second page’s answer to the question: What was the most meaningful gift you ever received? I found myself crying. After chronicling some childhood gifts and toys, she’d added, “I’m thinking that the people who gave me these meaningful gifts were the gifts in my life. Meaningful, as is said these days-I would better say means so much to me! A card, a letter, a phone call or a visit means so much to me because of the person doing it.”
Tears coursed down my cheeks when I read that one. How many cards, phone calls and visits had she had from me in the three or four years before her cancer diagnosis? Not nearly enough.
What was the most meaningful gift you have ever received? I ponder this question and realize that none of the answers I would come up with are expensive and the majority of them aren’t even material items. Some were items my mother had made for me; others would be small gifts from my husband. Meaningful cards and notes would top the list, as would the gift of time and support during David’s cancer, my mother’s death and our grandson’s cancer.
But one of the best gifts of all?
That would have to be the gift our parent’s gave us in the form of many siblings.
Because only they can understand why I had to put the memory book away for awhile.
And why the right time to read it might be when I am with them.