If she were still alive, my mother would be 83 for tomorrow's Mothers' Day.
I try not to harbor illusions about what her presence now would mean for me. My father and my mother-in-law both face serious surgical procedures in the next month. A friend and her husband moved his (decade older) parents into skilled nursing care yesterday. Similar versions of the same story are ubiquitous in my circle of 60-something year old friends who have parents still living. I know that my vision of an active, engaged, and healthy mother are mostly fantasy.
Pure fantasy, actually, since my mother died at 28. I have no memory of her voice, her posture, her gestures. I have a few recollections of various incidents, most of them concerning the utterly nonmomentous stuff of which daily life is made.
My daughter and I have had a couple of conversations recently about favorite childhood memories. (Hers seem to center on cats. So, to tell the truth, do many of mine.)
But in one of my very favorites, my mother and I are in the car, running errands in Vero Beach, Florida, where she and my father have just built the home to which they hope to move us, permanently rather than for just a few months at a time, from Ohio. I am six and it's May, just about this time of year, and I am beside myself with excitement. I am about to acquire my very own bedroom ~ the boys will share another one ~ and I am consulting with my mother about my decorating plans. My goal is one of those touristy beach shops, and my prospective treasure includes fishing nets and seashells and buoys and all sorts of ocean-related fabrics and colors.
That room will never make it past my imagination, just as my mother and youngest brother will not make it past that year.
I will be fine without the room. But what I will miss, which I do not realize until thirty years later, when I have a daughter of my own, will be the conversations. The ones about me: school, friends, boys, sports, music, college, legal career, husband, house, children, loss, cancer, ministry. The ones about her ~ and I don't even know what they would have been. That move to the beach? More children? Work? A return to college? Her friends? Her extended family (all gone now)? Travel? Health?
I like to think that she and my dad would have driven up here yesterday to spend an extended week-end with us and the kids, because Mother's Day would be a happy kind of holiday. (Something else I have missed: a mother who would have treasured my children as I do, and shown up frequently just to hang out with them.) I imagine that she would be standing in the sunroom window, looking out at the back yard, and saying, "Robbie, I wish that you would learn to garden. It would be so relaxing for you, and your yard would not look like an abandoned lot wishing for a lawnmower. Would you like me to stay a few days and put some flowers in for you while you're at work next week?"
And I would say, "Momma, yes, that would be great, but could you make some kind of thing with the driftwood and shells out there, so it could look like we live on the ocean?"
Unless, of course, things had worked out as planned, in which case we really would live on the ocean.
Lose a mother, and you lose a whole entire way of life. Ocean, and almost everything else.