I miss my mom more than I can say, even though we often were at odds because she drank. I’m a lesbian; I was born mouthy and my father was fond of driving a wedge between my mother and me. I have wondered why I haven’t felt her presence in some way or another, even when I’m quiet and listening. It is my belief that after our bodies croak, our essence, our energy remains to come back around again. After all, where does energy go but onward?
Mom loved the little chick-a-dees, or snowbirds, that are native to Western Washington. She would put seed and suet out for them in the winter and she also loved that Anne Murray song, “Snowbird.”
My domestic partner, Barbara, and I live in a house with a big backyard busy with these little birds. After reading an e-mail from a high school chum whose mother just died and her experience of seeing a soaring eagle she knew carried her mother’s spirit, I realized with goose bumps that my Mom has been here all along, in the presence of these feisty feathered friends. I couldn’t hear her essence until my pal’s written note and the tears rushed into my eyes. But they were good and I was comforted in this small way, and I’m thankful for that.
As our mother lay dying in a Melbourne, Florida hospital room in August of 2000, I was the last to arrive from the opposite coast and she was surrounded by her children and grandchildren, just the way she was in life. We spoke in whispers, each going to Mom to hold her hand or wipe her brow. I leaned into my mother’s ear, my hand on hers, and whispered to her, “It’s okay, Mom … you can go now if you want to,” as she struggled to breathe following a massive stroke. My sister, Kathy, couldn’t bear to say these words to her and Mom just didn’t want to go until we were all there. She also kept asking for an ice cream bar and I wished to God now that I had given her that small thing. I was afraid she would choke on it with the feeding tube down her throat.
While en route to maintain our vigil the following morning, my sister’s cell phone rang. A silence followed her “hello” and I was struck by the anguished ring in her voice as she said, “She’s gone?” with grief shimmering in her blue eyes. Mom had said the exact same thing, I remembered, when her own mother passed away. She was standing in the kitchen in our home in New Orleans talking on a yellow, rotary dial wall phone.
Mom passed at 10:30 a.m., August 19, nineteen months after my brother, Craig, died at age forty-six from kidney cancer. My father had forbidden her to see her dying second boy and by the time she made up her mind to defy him at her girls’ insistence, he’d slipped away. Mom grieved for Craig the rest of her life; children aren’t supposed to beat their parents to the grave. That is a story for another time.
When I entered that hospital room and saw my mother’s lifeless body and my baby sister, Marjorie, sobbing and draped on Mom’s cold hand, grief erupted from me with a force I could no more hold back than the inevitable storm swells that come with the hurricanes. My oldest brother, Phil, collected me in his arms and held me until the crying stopped. This is a gift from him I will carry for all my life. My youngest brother, Larry, came to me with liquid eyes and hugged me, his kind and gentle heart broken; we all thought Mom would live forever.
We are our mother’s daughters and sons …
Our lives have gone on as it does for the living, each of us carrying our parents in our genes. I have my mother’s humor, gift for storytelling, knack for dancing, and her pretty hands that pen my signature eerily similar to the way she used to write. It’s a terrific legacy I’ve come to appreciate as I’m well into my fifth decade.
Now I know she is all around me still when the snowbirds come calling …