Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For Mom

I consider myself very blessed. I had not one Mom who loved me but two.

The second, I've written of here many times, especially in that we lost her this year at the age of 86. But the Mom that adopted me, first showing me love, occupies more thoughts than words, and for her, on her birthday, I wanted to say just how much she meant to us.

It's winter and it's chilly, overcast, flirting with snow. Lines of storms have been traveling through. Far north now, the skies were low and leaden, and thundersnow that cleaved my morning still carried as an echo even as I drag to my hotel room after a 15 hour day.

People tease me about it, but I love storms, and I love a winter landscape. I want to tromp through the cornfields with Barkley, walking through snow upon snow, the earth standing hard as iron, the waters like stone. But the ice of winter is here, the memory of yesterdays warmth is long gone. Storm clouds ease on eastward, the pale sun imperceptibly in their trail, the cool breeze a lover's kiss of betrayal. Strangely, I always feel safe and secure when it's cloudy and coldly still, and especially when the snow or rain is coming down. I savor the slow creep into summer The chill flurries of March. Those deceptive days in April when the breeze is the cool conceit of a lingering winter.

I was just four when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. My Mom was one of the strongest women I've known. She came from a line of strong women. My grandmother came to the United States as an immigrant, a young woman educated only as a cook and a talented baker. Even though she spoke no English, she got a job as a cook for a wealthy New York family. But she fell in love with another immigrant, a rough around the edges, yet philosophical, Norwegian logger, and she ended up in Minnesota and later the Montana mountains, where my Mom was born. My grandfather was killed in a logging accident when my Mom was a young girl, but using her cooking talents, my grandmother was able to put all three kids through college, the concept that in the 30's my Mom would not be college educated as foreign to her as these shores had once been.

Mom got a degree in Criminal Justice, started out as a Court Reporter and after marriage to my Dad, her high school sweetheart, on his return from WWII, ended up a Deputy Sheriff, a job she held for many years, until children came along, after years of trying. Life for her, then, was complete. She was happy, living a life in the mountains of the West, with my Dad, and the family she always wanted.

Tall and strikingly beautiful, my blue eyed Mom and my red haired Dad made quite the pair and sometimes they would let us ignore our bedtime to stay up and watch them dance around the living room, the sounds of old Big Band records echoing across the hardwood floors. Music revolved around us and laughter was as much of a sound in the room as the joyful strains of a clarinet.

That cancer showed up uninvited when she finally had the family she wanted was as cruel a blow as could be imagined. But cancer and tragedy know no compassion for a life well lived.

While she was at the hospital I would take a fuzzy white blanket that smelled of her perfume, Chanel No. 5, and drape it over the card table to make a fort. That was my refuge, my safety zone. Unable to process the fear in my father's eyes or my mom's sudden absence I made a little world for myself, with a small lamp to do puzzles by and a couple beloved toys. For that time I withdrew into that white ecosphere of make believe warmth. She came home after Christmas, chemo shunt in place, and did everything in her power to make our  childhoods as normal as possible.

I remember mornings at the breakfast table. We'd look out at the fog shrouded trees behind our house. The geese foraging for their breakfast on their seasonal stop. The sun acted as if it is preparing to take on a Broadway stage, first peeking from behind the closed curtain of clouds, then coming out to bow upon the new fallen snow to the thunderous applause of the neighborhood snow blowers. We cherished the beginning of another day together. She'd feed us sweet Danish rolls and sugary Bear Claws instead of sensible oatmeal and we'd laugh. Oh how we'd laugh.

We weren't deluding ourselves. My parents had laid things out for us as best they could and we knew that she was very sick. Our breakfast may have been sugar coated, but the truth wasn't. But we learned early on that even after cancer, or other tragedies that life later drops on you, that there is a normal, it's just a NEW normal. So with a smile, Mom would hand us our snow gear and off we'd go, another day of childhood, our Mom waiting for us with treats when we got home, refusing to let us see when she was worried, when she was in pain.

Before cancer, our list of "should do's was really quite long. And like other families that cope with tragedy or disease, we quit using the work "should" quite so much and enjoyed every day, as if it was our last, because, quite frankly, we were never sure it wasn't.

She crammed a lot of life into her remaining years, which were much too short.  Having death a presence that crept into each room behind her, she developed a joyous enthusiasm for living that forced it's shadow into deep dark corners where it was, for the moment, hidden. Her lack of self pity and embracement of the good in each day, invigorated those around her, who, had we been forced to suddenly grow up to embrace life's unfairness, would have inevitably been stripped of the wonder and joy that life brings


There is a brief moment when one has cheated death, be it in a hospital or perhaps an airplane, a fleeting feeling of being utterly alive which occurs in times of danger or great physical intensity. In Zen Buddhism it is reached through meditation and is called kensho, a moment of feeling one with the universe. It's a life altering change, and often one that makes a person wholly appreciative of all the gift's God has given them. Mom savored those gifts and passed them on to us. From her I inherited her love of the outdoors, and her badge from the Sheriff's Department which lays proudly in the drawer next to my own badge. I hope that in me also resides her courage and her loving heart, truly things worth keeping. On this chill Winter day, I hope Mom can somehow look down and read these words.

As I look out my hotel window I notice a white quickening on the horizon small grey clouds scurrying as in first defense of the next band of warrior winter white. I can almost see the promise of a quiet quilt of snow to be spread across the landscape during the night. And I think back to those small comforts, the safe refuge formed by a old blanket and a card table as I waited for my Mom to come home. The afternoons building forts and futures out in the snow. As an adult now, I look into the grey cocoon of the advancing low overcast and feel, not grief, but comfort as the brisk wind through the trees carries the memory of love to me


Keads said...

I am fortunate that both of my parents are still alive. They are totally opposite in attitude and demeanor. Yet I like to think that I have the best of both.

This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Chip said...

Beautiful post Brigid. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Borepatch said...

I watch my dad, with this disease that is consuming him from within, and watch how he is only living for his family now. He's ready to go - he's just staying for us.

It makes me think of the Buddhist saying: When you're born, you cry and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice and the world cries.

It makes me feel very selfish to wish him to stay with us, when he's so ready to go.

It sounds like it was a bit like that, with you and your mom. Your post was a beautiful tribute to her.

Tango Juliet said...

Is it any wonder you're so tough?

Touching post.

ViolentIndifference said...

Love to all moms.

I know my mom a little bit more, and can respect and appreciate her much more after seeing my lovely wife go from "girlfriend" to one of the best moms I know. I have an appreciation that I always thought was there, but has concretized with the slow passage of time.

Being an adult, being a dad ( a good one, if I may say so ) makes you know, love, and appreciate your own parents. It is an accumulation of experience culminating in the indebtedness for what you have grown up with - the stability and caring for which you were gifted.

I grew up in a nuclear family, but I've learned that love for parents, love for family is not bounded by another person's definition of family.

It takes a lifetime to learn some lesson of love. Now is the time, if you have even learned a part of that lesson, to show your love.

As you grow, as your own experiences build your own character, you develop the gratefulness, the recognition and admiration for the lives of your parents. And a profound sadness as time slowly tears at what makes up your parents, the sorrowful realization of a loss much like a lake gradually freezing in the pale gray of their last winter.

Jon said...

I lost a favorite uncle to Cancer this year - and in your prose of your mother I can see little echos of him.

None of his children were of such a young age of course - we're all adults - but he never missed a big family meal, or a chance to spend time with any of us. Sons, Nephews or Nieces. He knew he probably wouldn't beat this, but he tried and he made the best of each day given.

Wish I'd spent more time with him while it was there.

It was a good year. Thanks for the words Brigid.

Rev. Paul said...

Borepatch's comment could have been my own. I'm acutely that this will be my dad's last Christmas - and so is he.

Thank you for sharing your memories of that strong woman, and for your own strength that you share with us.

Merry Christmas to you and all whom you love.

stopsign said...

Beautiful tribute to your mom. Thank You for sharing it with us.

Jim said...

If we can see your mom in you, then we're fortunate for it.


WomanWhoRunsWithHorses said...

Beautiful tribute to your mom, Brigid.

"I hope that in me also resides her courage and her loving heart, truly things worth keeping."

You mirror those qualities you so admired in your mom. If she can look down and read your words, she can surely also see your heart and I know she would be so proud.

Cond0010 said...

"Strangely, I always feel safe and secure when it's cloudy and coldly still, and especially when the snow or rain is coming down. "

The colors are also more rich on grey/overcast days.

I too, have liked grey days very much as the colors and hues always mades things less ordinary and more surreal.

Lovely memories of your mother. Its a good reflection of her - and you, the keeper of those moments.

Joshkie said...

Lovely, thank you.

Kim said...

Thanks for sharing your mom with us.

Vic & Dave said...

And a hearty Happy Birthday to your mother's spirit, she raised you well.

--From another 12/22'er, still on the low side of half a century...


Carol said...

Got a tear in my eye over this post. Mom is 82 and fading fast, but like yours, she is teaching me how to face life, and death, with dignity and courage. She may be gone soon, but that lesson never will. Thanks for a lovely post.

Hat Trick said...

Lovely tribute to your mother.

Be assured that you have always displayed the courage and loving heart that you so valued in your mother.

joated said...

Beautiful tribute.

Thank you for sharing it with us.

maddmedic said...

Nice, very nice!
My middle sister, I had 3 younger sisters, was forced to give up, by my mother, an out of wedlock baby she had when she was in college.

My sister has since reconnected with her "unwanted" child and they have a great relationship.

I have never met this young gal and the funny thing is she went to college here in my town!

So tomorrow I meet her for the first time.

As for the "I had 3 younger sisters"
Cancer claimed the eldest of the 3 at 43. It was an awful time and I still struggle with it.

Again wonderful post!!

George said...

Thank you, Brigid, for this tribute to your mother. We, too, are lucky that you had such a mother and, as others have said, that you did inherit those traits and attributes we admire so much in you.

Her birthday found a fitting tribute in your words.