“Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
As I drew toward morning and waking to another day, I was overcome with the urge to pick up the telephone and call her. “My Momma is the only one that can understand the hurt I feel, only she could possibly make it better,” I thought. But as I drew further from sleep and closer to my new life without her, I realized that our daily phone calls, that sweet communion we shared, would never be again.
How can one ever put fingers to keys and type about this loss? My Momma was my first friend and confidant, best bottle washer and cook, grandmother and cheerleader for my children, someone who loved my husband even at the times when I wanted to wring his neck and prayer warrior for all our trials and tribulations. How could one even dare to speak of the life and loves of the woman who created me, held me in her womb, birthed, nurtured, reared, loved and supported me so fiercely until her death on Mother’s Day? What words exist that could honor her fully?
A beautiful poem by WH Auden comes to mind, “She was my North, my South, my East, my West, my working week and my Sunday best. Pack up the moon, dismantle the Sun, the stars are not wanted now, put out every one. Pour away the ocean, sweep up the wood.” And yet, while I love those lines, my favorite is “Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.”
I love that last line because it reminds me of the richness of my childhood, my Momma, her six sisters, her brother and the customs of growing up on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. An era gone by and yet replaced by one with equal richness. I think I have told you that as a child, we grew up going to many funerals. With large families on both sides, it seemed there was always someone sick or dying. Crepe bows, shrouds, death wreaths on doors, black dresses with white gloves and patent leather shoes were staples of our existence. Pound cakes, chicken salad, pimento cheese, mints and mixed nuts were a constant in our diets. Playing under coffins, viewing corpses at funeral homes and shuffling through receiving lines a well rehearsed practice. Drawing in the dirt with sticks, playing hop scotch and hide and seek or running through a plowed and planted field after the service to soothe ourselves, we mourned and then we ate, laughed and ran together with or without our gloves. So I am eternally grateful to the brilliant Auden for the image of the crepe papered doves and the policemen wearing gloves even as the ocean is poured out and our stars dismantled. Thank you WH.
As I sit in bereavement on my dock, I am bathed by the song of birds ministering to me and my grief. A red wing black bird has followed us since our arrival at the beach. Perched over our heads as we sit on the pier each morning, a song of pure joy and living rings around. How can I weep in such beauty? And I know that soon my heart will find happiness. I remember laughing, even while lining up for the service, as someone whispered something that “Dot Dot would be saying right now if only she were here.” And so I know that this heartache as deep as it is will not last forever but also that life will be changed by this loss.
I am constantly reminded of the larger than life woman who planted and shaped me and I am humbled. Photos of her, cards to me and my children from her and cards from her friends and family to us, surround. Yesterday, my sweet middle son ventured out on the porch to tell me a story about how his sister was not listening to him and had blamed him for saying something that wasn’t true, “She’s too sensitive, I was talking about myself,” he said before turning fully to see that my face was laid in my hands and I was weeping. “Are you OK?” he asked. “I want my Momma,” I cried. “How old are you?” he asked back. “Not too old to want a hug from her.” I sighed. Never too old for that.
I can not help but draw back to my knowledge that she lost her Momma when she was only twelve. I cannot fathom the pain and anguish of the day when the eight of them gathered around the grave to lay her down and then one year to the day later met again in the cemetery to lay down their father.
Last week I emailed a friend who recently lost her Mother to tell her about Momma’s decline. In the email, I described my love and the importance of our relationship over the years. I told her that no matter how sick and uncomfortable Momma was that when folks came in to visit, she responded to them with “Good, good and you?” and called each one by name. I also told her that one of Momma’s friends had sent the hospice nurse packing with, “What are you doing here? We don’t need you!” And that from then on we called the hospice nurse the “night nurse.” Despite thirty years as a hospice volunteer, Momma seemed unable to take back that ministering when her turn came. Eventually folks asked what was wrong with Momma. I answered them by saying, “Momma never wanted to live a life at half mast. However, it is difficult for her to embrace the finality of death and all the many goodbyes that come with it.” So the days turned to weeks and despite what the doctors said, she lingered in the place in between.
Gently my friend reminded me, “You are blessed to be hers.” Blessed indeed am I. I love her so and will miss her beyond belief. May God grant us all wisdom to remember the dead and departed, strength to carry the legacy they have left behind, love to honor their memory and humility to know that likely what we do will not be enough. I leave you with a line from the poem she asked my son to read at her memorial, “May God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Goodbye to her and to you for now.