Birthdays. My husband’s, my cousin’s, my niece’s, my Mom’s, my Dad’s, my Mom’s good friend in the retirement home. Haven’t you noticed how your family birthdays seem to fall into clumps-all together? Are folks attracted to each other because of sun signs, orbital relationships or fertility patterns? Ha. Who knows? I only know that this week, I am buying cards, wrapping presents, cooking and planning dinners with cakes and making restaurant reservations eternally. Grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the births of the dead and not yet dead also.
Our daughter, Wilton, you remember don’t you? The seven months of study in Asia that ended in that marvelous trip in Thailand from the mountains to the sea. Well, now she is in Maine running laser lights through algae and trying to scientifically plot how they grow and how they die. Life projections and the effect of aging and proliferation being all important in the cycle of phytoplankton as we consider it’s usefulness for bioavailable fuel. Sure that I am getting most of this nomenclature incorrect I will muddle forward in honor of both my daughter and her mentor who invented this laser light which allows the charting of the life cycle, proliferation and decay. Hmmm, “What are you doing tomorrow, my dear?” I ask. Full of ideas of what her day may consist of but having little true evidence to back me up, I ask the oft repeated refrain. “How do you measure the life line of an algae with a light?” “Ah, Mom,” she opines in a common refrain too, “haven’t I already told you?” “Yes, indeed, of course you have but could you enlighten me one more time, sweetie?” Frankly, I’m used to understanding things and this one is giving me a bit of trouble.
“Well, I get up at 6am and go out at high tide, 6:22am, to collect water with algae in it and then carry it to the lab for analysis. But our data is all wacky and I hate to think that all this effort will end with nothing. No pattern. No publishable results.” Now this being something I know a lot about I say, “Well, 90% of your work should be unpublishiable if the journal requires a positive finding before publishing. 90%”. “I know,” she joins with me, “It’s just that I don’t want it to be so.” And neither did all those scientist who falsified their data to further their careers. So how is this generation going to tolerate years and perhaps decades of research that yields nothing or yields something other than hypothesized? Quite a challenge indeed.
I ponder life cycles more often now, both mine and Momma’s. Beginnings and endings that wind up somewhere in the middle or was that a start for both of us? Warm skin and sweet kisses that become charred ashes and bits of brittle bone placed in a biodegradable urn so that all, even the container disappears into the dust. I think more often about laser lights and proliferation. Regeneration and death. Breath in and breath out until life ceases forever for this person in this plane. Where is she? What she is doing? How happy and satisfied she is with her time on earth and what she is wishing she could do over. Don’t you? Think about all that I mean? After someone you love dies, love so much it hurts to think of them even while they are alive, and now that they are dead, it pinches even more.
“I miss her,” she said to me and started crying. “I think I am so busy I haven’t had time to think about it and be sorry.” Dn’t worry, I thought back, I’m sad enough for both of us. Letting her talk about her grief as it washes over both of us once more. “i miss her too,” is my only reply.
But occasionally I’m catching a glimpse of the other. The phase that comes after, when you are so happy for your loved one that they don’t need a wheelchair anymore or have to be deathly afraid of losing their memory and independence. You feel them walking behind you, ministering to you, see them flying with the red birds back and forth, to and fro form the crepe myrtle to the magnolia, lighting on a blossom so white that it whispers her name and she turns and trills out a song that only you can hear. I am beginning to feel this too. Sometimes she sits with me on the deck while I drink coffee and read her Bible or write one of a hundred thank you notes to the many who came and gave in her honor. Once she rode with me to the tennis court urging me to feel fine about hitting that lazy yellow ball over a silly net. She touched the heart of the 6th grade Hispanic boy that I tutor on Tuesdays. He thought I had left him I missed so many of our days together. How did he finish all that algebra without my iPhone calculator? We laughed together but then I told him about Momma and he was struck dumb, standing, but when he looked up was talking only about his Spanish homework. He knew there was nothing more that could be said. She was there then too, we both felt her. There was that and the day she helped me paint my Godmother, her best friend’s portrait, Aunt Agnes. It flowed so easy and true.
Yes, I can tell that the beginning of the worst missing is almost over. It only comes back now in flashes when I let my guard down. Like when I call my daughter to talk about algae and she starts to cry about my Momma. Like then. Momma and I have headed into that sweet sweet loving place where she talks to me almost anytime and l have to listen but then so does she to me. That place.
I mailed out twenty or so requests to children’s publishers in the hopes of finding someone to publish Momma, Who’s Babygod? Some of you know that children’s book I wrote based on a fight I had with Wilton in December 1998. She was mad because she couldn’t find her favorite pajamas and would not wear anything else. “You don’t care about me, all you do is yell, yell, yell. I’ll freeze to death and you don’t care!” “Ah, but I do care, love, want you to be warm,” I responded. Now my Momma’s saying that to me and I’m saying it right back.
I think I’ve figured out that instead of being an artist or a writer that I’m a healer. My paintings and writing are works of healing more than they are works of art. I may find a gallery again. A publisher may come along soon. However, that’s not the point. The point is, I am a healer. A healer with a heart that vibrates at a frequency that takes care of others. I don’t really have to do very much to make it happen. Just show up. And that I intend to continue doing. Forever and ever Amen.