I’m sitting down to write post-sunset as the clear sky begins to darken. The surface of the river is like glass and perfectly reflects the leafy trees and sky. The birds are singing their goodnight songs. Other than that, and some traffic passing by (less than usual, though), the world is quiet – feels hushed, sacred.
Nine years ago tonight, in the wee morning hours, my mom passed away. I never forget to acknowledge and remember the night of May 26-27.
Earlier this evening, I walked at the park down the road and noticed the first of the purple irises are in bloom, just as they were nine years ago this evening. But back then, I wasn’t aware it was iris time because I was camped out at the hospice house. No time for nature walks, for every moment was poignant, full of mystery, not to be missed. We gathered in.
At the park, I stopped to smile at and lightly touch the soft petals of one of the irises, recalling how they were the first flowers that greeted me at the park – the first place I felt compelled to go – after leaving the hospice house in the morning, several hours after my mom died.
A colorful sunrise, purple irises, and a butterfly were there to uplift my spirits that first morning without my mom – evidence that there was still so much beauty and predictability in the natural world even when our human lives felt turned upside-down and suddenly unfamiliar. In my mindfulness meditation classes, I describe it as taking refuge in something larger than the circumstances of our lives.
The labyrinth at the park was my refuge that day.
Nine years later, the evening of May 26 remains a tender time of reflection. Tonight, I’m thinking of all that has transpired since that evening, including having a seven-year-old granddaughter and awaiting the arrival of a grandson. Sometimes in dreams, I try to catch my mom up on what happened since she left. Usually when I dream of her – in those dreams that seem uber real – I learn that she hadn’t died after all. All that time, I thought she had, but no – it wasn’t true! She’s back – and it’s the most wonderful feeling. Because I’ve learned to appreciate her.
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Yesterday, my husband and I were about to drive past the street my parents lived on for 37 years, when I had an impulse to turn into the development. In the six years since we sold the house, I’d never seen anyone outside during the occasional drive-by. However, this time a man was sitting on the front porch and flashed us a peace sign as we drove slowly by. My husband urged me to stop so we could introduce ourselves. It seemed like a good idea, so I did.
We ended up talking with him for quite a while, sharing stories of the house and the neighborhood and how both had changed in the past several years. It felt good to make the connection and know who was living in my family’s old house and a little about their story.
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Earlier this week, another significant thing happened. My very pregnant daughter and I went into my storage unit to retrieve something and noticed two plastic bins of clothing. Curious, we opened them and discovered all of the dresses my mom had made for my daughter when she was in early elementary school.
I decided to wash them and see if they would fit my granddaughter.
Inspecting them prior to putting them in the washer, I was drawn to the tags hand-stitched into some of the dresses that read, “Specially Hand Made by Grandma”. The sight of the tags brought tears to my eyes. But it was a very different wave of tears than when grief was fresh. Deeply touched by my mom’s kindness and generosity, I simply marveled at how she loved us.
Nine years later, that’s what remains.
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When she was alive and we were enmeshed in our mother-daughter roles, and it seemed like we’d all be around forever, I couldn’t see how much love there was, and how much larger the love was than the roles and all of their implicit rules and unspoken needs. I was more focused on our differences and trying to get my mother to understand me and approve of the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my life. I often felt frustrated because I couldn’t change her – the way she saw the world – and she probably felt much the same. Not because she believed I wasn’t good enough, but because she wanted me to have a good life.
This is something that has become crystal clear to me in the past nine years.
Every year it (grief?) sneaks up on me at some point during late May. But as the years go by, it feels very different – in a good way.
I feel drawn to write this for the moms and grandmas who wonder if they’ll ever be appreciated. Sometimes it happens after we’re gone. The human condition is messy, and it’s often hard to see the fuller truths of each other when we’re immersed in life, roles, and relationships. We perceive each other through the warped lenses of our egos and roles (and sometimes others’) and turn partial truths into broad assumptions, stories, and caricatures. We have relationships with our ideas of who someone is instead of with the actual person. We do the best we can. It’s the way it is.
But it doesn’t have to be the way it remains, and sometimes it’s death that opens our eyes to the wider picture. Friends share loving memories, and you begin to realize there was much more to this person than the relationship you had with them. The walls you built to protect your ego from perceived (and perhaps well-intended) threats begin to come down because they no longer serve a purpose. You don’t shame yourself or dismiss the way you felt – you just understand more, and the feelings naturally change, kind of like how wine ages.
At least, that’s been my experience (though honestly, I don’t know anything about wine).
I also write this for those who still have their moms – a little postcard from the future.
And for those newly bereaved, I’m offering hope, for grief mercifully doesn’t stay the same.
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I washed the dresses and put them on the line to dry. And I thought: That’s a whole lot of love there, stretched across the back yard.
I marveled some more. And took a few pictures. A huge ball of sunlight showed up, no matter how I angled the phone camera…and it seemed to complete the picture.
The next evening, I took the bin of dresses to my daughter’s home. My granddaughter met me at the door and was thrilled when I told her what I brought for her. About a third of the dresses fit her, and she exclaimed into the air, “Thank you, great-grandma!”
I wish I’d realized sooner that all of those handmade dresses were in storage so she could have worn more of them. But she wore her favorite one to school today. And I love that my granddaughter feels connected with the great-grandmother she never met. They would have been two peas in a pod.
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In the morning, I plan to buy some vegetable plants for the garden. It’s been bothering me that I haven’t planted anything yet. But now I understand why. My mom loved working in her garden. She grew roses and tulips and trained morning glories to grow upright. There were lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts, a lilac bush, a little herb garden, and more. There were countless summer days when I pulled into my parents’ driveway and found her gardening.
Yes, there are the memories from nine years ago. But there are so many more memories of May 26-27 throughout the years when you’d find her working in her garden. What better way to observe her angelversary than to work in mine? We might be inclined to grow different things, but that’s okay.
© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.