On this day 48 years ago, an accomplished and driven schoolteacher from humble, rural beginnings married a confident, athletic Greek who was making his way in the petroleum engineering industry. The mother of the bride had passed away nearly 15 years before this wedding. The father of the groom, who had immigrated to the United States from Greece with limited funds and even less English in his vocabulary, died before being able to watch his son’s life unfold with his new bride.
That bride’s life was cut short, too. By cancer. Stupid cancer. While that bride lived to see her son and her daughter into adulthood and she welcomed and adored four grandchildren, her life–and her marriage–ended too soon. Stupid cancer.
That bride was my sweet mama, and I miss her dearly every single day. I’ve written about this topic in this space a lot. And I will continue to do so. I know my dad misses her every single day, too. He still refers to her as The Bride. In caps. I’m sure he’s missing her even more than usual today. Because today he should be celebrating with The Bride. They should be celebrating 48 years of marriage and a life full of happiness. She’d be laughing right now, recalling her simple wedding and her sweet pale yellow suit and pillbox hat. She’d be self-effacing about the number of years that have passed and the wrinkles etched in her face and the extra pounds settled around her middle. She’d be tempted to surrender the battle against the grey hair, but would continue seeking the ash-blonde color. And she’d be infusing our lives with her unique blend of meddling, hovering, and loving.
I have strict instructions from my youngest child to lounge in bed on this day, awaiting the fete that my family has prepared for me. I’m not much of a lounger, but I am today. My coffee is delivered while I prop myself up on a slew of pillows, and I resist the urge to leap out of bed and hit the ground running, as I do on most days. I savor the coffee knowing there is no long list of things to accomplish. No lunches to pack, no permission slips to sign, no laundry to run, no carpool to drive. Today is for relaxing.
My favorite girl rushes back into the bedroom with a coaster for my coffee mug. She grabbed it out of the drawer that holds the snarky cocktail napkins and bar accessories in an effort to bring some luxury and festivity to my morning coffee. I wonder if she read it before bringing it to me.
I can hear the preparations taking place in the next room, and I await the unveiling of the day’s bounty. As I smile at the fact that my favorite girl has orchestrated a production to celebrate me, I have a revelation. It’s a big one, an important one. I might even call it a watershed moment, which I much prefer to the more popular, Oprah-spawned “aha moment.”
The kernel for this watershed moment germinated this past week. As I enjoyed my usual yummy green curry at the favorite Thai place at which a group of my best girls gather occasionally for lunch, the topic of Mother’s Day came up, and a discussion ensued. Everyone discussed their plans for the upcoming holiday, and I noticed something remarkable. In talking about this holiday, which has typically been a mighty hard day for me absent my own sweet mama, I wasn’t plagued by a sense of dread.
Could it be? Was it really happening? At lost last, after 7 years without my mom, was the pain of Mother’s Day easing?
When it was my turn to talk about plans for the big day, my dear therapist friend at the table began explaining to the others that it’s a hard day for me. I love having my own in-house counsel. Our two families have spent the last few Mother’s Days together, celebrating poolside with delicious food cooked by her hubs and copious glasses of bubbly poured by mine. She and I have plumbed the depths of the dichotomy of mourning the loss of my mom while trying to enjoy the day as a mom. Tricky business, that.
In the midst of this impromptu therapy session, another friend piped up with a most honest and very good question: instead of being sad about your mom, what about being happy about your kids? Can you focus on what you have, instead of on what you’ve lost?
Why didn’t I think of that?
My sweet mama would approve of this idea, wholeheartedly. In fact, knowing that she’d be so bummed about and would feel responsible for me being sad and dreading Mother’s Day has made the day all the more difficult. I know I should be happy. I know I should enjoy my beautiful, funny, charming, challenging, and amazing kiddos on this day, especially. But missing her, wishing she were still here, and raging against the wretched system that steals her from me makes it hard to do that. Alcohol helps. Lots of it. Preferably champagne. But even with a bottomless glass of bubbly, this day has always been a tricky course to navigate.
Hearing my sweet friend ask such a simple and innocent question, however, changed everything. Instead of gnashing my teeth at the Kay Jeweler commercials and shaking my fist at the festive tents full of flowers and balloons and sweets popping up in the grocery store parking lots, I felt a sense of peacefulness. A subdued calm infuses me this Mother’s Day. I’m not going to go so far as to say that a sense of celebration reigns, but I’m getting there. The fact that I feel subdued calm instead of outright rage is progress, people, major progress.
While it may sound simple to some to simply shift the focus from what you’re missing to what you have, I offer this: losing someone you love, particularly to a cruel and powerful disease, makes it hard to think straight. Losing someone you love makes it hard to put one foot in front of the other and soldier on through life, even if that’s what you really want to do. Losing someone you love dampens even the most festive of occasions. Even though I look lovingly at the faces at the table for the Mother’s Day feast, I’m thinking of the one place that’s unoccupied, the one party guest who’s missing. Though I’m surrounded by the people I love the most, spending a day in exactly the way I want, and while I have a bazillion things for which I am grateful, sometimes the one thing I’m not grateful for manages to supersede everything else.
But not anymore.
Today the tide has shifted and the planets are aligned. Today the bountiful sunshine that radiates on this mid-May Texas day reaches all the way into my heart and warms my battered soul. Today I will bask in the love and good wishes coming my way from my nuclear family and my extended family of close friends. Today I will finally enjoy Mother’s Day. I will focus on what I have, not what I’ve lost.
“Every death is a wakeup call to live more fully, more completely and more presently.” — Oprah
How ironic that I came across this quote today, the same day that I came across this on my patio (Julie A, stop reading now because here comes the icky part; Christy and all my tender-hearted animal-loving friends, I apologize in advance for the graphic nature of this post and the photos:
I consulted the Houston Audubon Society website and it appears to be American Crow. It’s smaller than a Grackle, which are very common around here, especially on the patios of Mexican restaurants where they beg for chips.
Payton and I came home from the gym but didn’t notice the crow on the ground. He went back into the garage to carry in the loot from Academy, and as he walked up to the back door I heard him say, “Ewwww, gross!” I asked what was gross and he said there’s a dead bird on the patio, and before I could get out there, Harry had the bird in his mouth (he is a retriever, after all).
I don’t think Harry killed the bird — he barks a good game, but when push came to shove, I think he’d be too squeamish. He prefers to do his hunting on the kitchen counters when he’s all alone, and no one can see him scarf down a loaf of bread. If Payton and I had happened upon a downed loaf of bread, I would convict Harry in a heartbeat.
Is this face of a bird killer? I think not.
True, Harry has little patience for birds and barks his fool head off at them. He especially gets rattled by the ones that perch on the peak of our roof. They pause there to rest a minute or sing a little song, and he goes bonkers. If we say “bird” to Harry, he’ll start barking, lifting his two front paws off the ground for emphasis. However, I don’t think he’s a cold-blooded killer.
I think that unfortunate crow hit one of the plate-glass windows that line the family room and overlook the backyard. This has happened once before, and the bird was stunned and knocked for a loop, but eventually recovered enough to fly away and hopefully live a long, happy, song-filled life. That time, I heard the thump of bird body colliding with glass. This time, I did not.
Nevertheless, I left the crow when he was for a while, hoping the fluttering of his tail feathers meant he was coming to and rallying. Alas, it was not to be. There would be no rally for that crow.
Sad, sad, sad.
And also troubling, because with 2 dogs in residence and others who visit regularly, that dead bird could easily become a mess of feathers and innards if left too long. It might also scare the tar out of Pedey the Weasel Dog, who is regularly frightened by his own shadow. If left too long in the intense Houston heat, it would start to stink to high heaven sooner rather than later. And, last but not least, I did not want Macy to see that dead bird. My little zookeeper has a heart as big as Texas, and her love of animals is legendary. In fact, she is at this moment at the Houston Humane Society’s Companion Camp, where she is no doubt loving on every animal in the building.
So how to dispose of the dead bird on my patio? It seemed somehow wrong and not befitting to just pick it up in a plastic bag and dump it in the trash. Wrong and smelly, too, since the trashmen don’t come for another couple of days. I can imagine that a dead bird inside a black trash barrel in the 90+ degree heat would be plenty nasty come trash day. I think the trashmen would have to take the whole barrel.
Anyone who has a dog knows what “The Scoop” is for, and those of you unfortunate souls who don’t have a dog can probably figure it out quite easily. Our Scoop gets plenty of use in our yard, and I’m kinda nutsy about cleaning it real carefully after each use, so I figured this was the best option.
He looks like he’s just sleeping in “The Scoop,” right?
The Houston Audubon Society says the American Crow is “highly intelligent” and leads a “complex life.” They hang together, forming large communities, and don’t breed until they are 4 or 5 years old. They have strong family ties and tend to stay together.
Great, I can now picture a crow family worried sick about their relative who hasn’t returned to the nest. They may be doing a fly-over right now, fanning out across the neighborhood searching for their lost guy.
Now I’m really glad I didn’t just dump him in the trash barrel. I carried him, in “The Scoop,” across the street and laid him in the shady grassy area next to the lake. It’s under a big tree, so maybe the search party will spot him, and their worry can morph into sorrow.
Or maybe the vultures will get to him before then. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and vultures gotta eat. Circle of life, I suppose, but it still makes me sad. I won’t go so far as to say that this crow’s death is a wake-up call that makes me want to live more fully, more completely, and more presently, as Oprah advises. No, I have cancer to thank for that. But having been through the “cancer journey” myself and having watched my sweet mama go through it, my heart is just a little more tender. Just a teensy bit broken. While joyful about survival and proud of having triumphed, going through such an immense experience produces little fissures, tiny cracks.
Yet, as Harold Duante-Bernardt so poetically pointed out, “We are all broken and wounded in this world. Some choose to grow strong at the broken places.”
So while I keep peeking out the front windows to the shady spot across the street, under the big tree by the lake, watching for a crow family in mourning or a gaggle of hungry vultures, I will resolve to grow stronger at the broken places.