Dateline: July 10, 2014. Sebastopol
One week from today is my mother’s Yahrzeit (the anniversary of her death), July 17th.
My mother died seventy-two years ago. I has just turned fourteen. I am now eighty-six. I still miss my mother. I have a quilted flower picture hanging on my bedroom wall. For several months now, when I casually give a quick glance at those quilted flowers, for just an instant, they turn into the formal portrait of my mother and me. Then, just as suddenly as it became Mom and me, it reverts to its reality, being a quilted picture my daughter Penny made for me. This happens over and over again, and quite unexpectedly so.
I’ve only had two dreams about my mother in all these seventy-two years that she has been gone. Recently, a rather passing fancy of a dream about which outfit I wanted and which outfit she wanted for me. She won. A statement of the brief times we had together.
In 1981, another dream, an important dream, came to me as a gift. In this dream I was an undefined age – somewhere between teen and middle age. I tip-toed into mother’s room in Atlanta’s Georgia Baptist Hospital. She appeared gray against the hospital’s white sheets. Tubes dribbled liquid into her almost skeletal arms. Two months ago, she had a massive cerebral hemorrhage, a severe stroke, (She was forty-one). I sat on the side of her bed. She handed me her sterling silver monogrammed hairbrush (SMH – Sophie Manes Holzman) and I began to gingerly, tenderly, sweetly remove the tangles from, what she called, her salt and pepper hair, circling her face on the pillow with her own kind of halo. I lay down the brush, picked up a washcloth and stroked her face. The grayness I’d seen when I entered the room faded into a soft rosy glow. I kissed her forehead.
She opened her eyes, smiled at me and spoke: “Now I can die.”
Only those adults who were children when their mother died can understand the life-long impact of the death a parent. I went from an A student to a C- student, Mother wasn’t there to tell me I was smart. Only Dad and Grandma to tell me I was pretty.
Mother wasn’t there when I fell in love the first time, nor when I graduated from high school, nor when I married. Mother wasn’t there when my son was born and I was frightened. I didn’t know what to do. Mother wasn’t there to show me. Mom wasn’t there to applaud when I received an award or to give me her favorite recipes or show me the nuances of making a home.
One time she really was there. In 1966, I was rushed to Michael Reese hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. I was told I barely made it through the night, That night I well remember: floating down the long hospital corridor. By the swinging doors at the end of the hallway, stood my mother, dressed in her favorite blue damask hostess gown. Waiting for me. I pleaded with her. “I don’t want to desert my children the way you deserted me.” She took my hand and guided me back to my hospital bed, tucked me in with a kiss and disappeared.
Maybe this is why every so often I see her in those quilted flowers. The flowers momentarily become both Mother and me in a formal studio portrait. Her silent voice says to me: “I am here. Ready to be with you when your time comes..