Twenty years ago today, two days after her 55th birthday, my mother drew her last breath on this side of life. It was my birthday.
My mother and I were very close. In fact I can safely say that I was, if not her favorite, certainly the one with whom she was the closest, perhaps for no other reason than that I was the youngest, and thus got to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with her. Well, my brothers and sister might dispute it, but what is beyond dispute is the special bond she and I shared as both having been born during Christmastime – she on Christmas Day itself and me, two days afterwards. Consequently, our birthdays were easily overshadowed and overlooked. Because of this, she always went out of her way to make my birthday special. One of my earliest and fondest memories was of riding downtown on a bus to the L&C Tower where I got to look out from the viewing platform. It was my birthday request, and she went out of her way to make it happen.
My mother wasn’t perfect and our relationship wasn’t either. It was, well, complicated. Like most mothers with their sons I suppose, my mother could be a bit over protective at times and really wasn’t too ready to let me grow up. But we never really butted heads in any major way. She was momma, and I loved her. I do love her.
Because her death date and my birthdate are the same, there is never a birthday for me that isn’t tinged with a bit of melancholy and sadness because it always recalls that horrid morning when I woke with my mother’s body lying quiet and still beside me, the lifeforce drained away. My father’s urgent pleading with tears as he futilely shook her, my sister’s-in-law screams, my sister’s quiet tears, the calls I made to inform family members, the weariness and sadness as we sat at supper and someone (my brother I think) said, happy birthday, and I cried and cried.
In the twenty years that she has been gone, life too has changed radically. There is so much I wish I could have shared with her: my wedding to Pauline (who I suspect she would have been very suspicious of initially, but would have grown to deeply love and appreciate), the birth of my sons, my daughter Reese, my graduation with a PhD. All of this life I have lived without her physical presence. But I haven’t lived a day without her.
When my children are upset, it is the songs she sang me, that I sing to them. When I am perplexed, it is her words of wit and wisdom that I call upon. When I am discouraged, it is her persevering faith that sustains me. So today, in honor of her life, and the life she gave me, I pause to say thank you. Thank you momma for being a good mother to me, for believing in me. For never ever giving up on me or on any of us. For inspiring me to learn, for teaching me to read, to sew, to cook, to clean, to drive a car, to write a check, to plait hair, and grow plants, and most of all for teaching me to love people no matter what they do, or how bad their stories are, or how difficult their case may seem. Thank you for teaching me to ask questions, to dream, to listen to classical music and the Midnight Mass, to dance in the living room, to make popcorn on the stove, and all the ten thousand and more other things you did and that I do because you were and are my mother, and because you did and do love me. I love you momma, now and always.