Spring Forward


Spring makes me think of my late mother more than any other season. Everything is in bloom, the world is lush, full of promise and rebirth. She loved nature and beautiful things – spring is the perfect combination of these elements. The pain of grief subsides with time but spring brings my own grief to the forefront. It doesn’t help that this spring we are going through the remainder of my mother’s possessions as my father prepares to sell the house.

When my mother died in 2013, I clung to anything that belonged to her, thinking that if I had her things close by than she would remain close by too. I wrapped myself in her coats and carried her purses. I had a closet full of her clothes that I thought I would wear, which I quickly learned had her smell when I opened the closet door. It was my own, private mini-shrine in a seldom used closet in my home. On the rare occasion when I got out the iron, I could inhale and feel my mother’s presence.

Mother’s Day happens to fall in spring, but that day isn’t harder for me than every other day I miss my mother. Since we went to the cemetery last year, the first Mother’s Day without my mother, my daughter assumed we were going again this year. So we did. My husband, children and I actually had a nice visit with “Bubbe.” We cleaned off her headstone, pulled some crabgrass and told her what was going on in our lives. I shed a few tears.

Now it’s the small things that make me feel happy and think of my mother. Her key-chain, flower pots from her deck, knickknacks. a recipe in her handwriting, a pair of earrings. In her art studio I found her credit card from Garfinkel’s, a now defunct department store that was the height of elegance in its day. My mom was so sad when the store closed – she wasn’t a big shopper but she appreciated fine quality. The credit card was propped on a little metal stand, her tribute to times gone by. Now it makes me smile to think of her whimsy in keeping it.

I recently made a new recipe – a sushi salad. My husband describes it as a “deconstructed California roll.” I feel like my grief has changed into deconstructing Rita. My mother wasn’t a puzzle that needs taking apart, but as we break up her house I remember and experience her many parts and layers, which only further reveals her beautiful essence.

The clocks spring forward and so do I.


Mother’s Day

001.jpgThis will be my first Mother’s Day without my mother.  It is the first time in my adult life that I don’t have to buy a card or a gift or plan an activity to do with my mother.

Last weekend was the unveiling of my mother’s tombstone.  It was an intimate gathering to officially mark her grave and say a few prayers. It was a beautiful day, which was both good and bad.  Good because we could all enjoy the glory of nature, but bad because my mother would have appreciated such a gorgeous day, making her absence all the more glaring.

My mother was a passionate genealogist.  She spent a lot of time in cemeteries, searching for clues from tombstones to help figure out the puzzle of a family history.  She loved the challenge and excitement of searching a family’s lineage.  She also derived great pleasure from introducing distant relatives to each other.  I could not muster much enthusiasm for her pursuits, being far too self involved with the daily grind of my own life.

“I talked to a man who’s grandfather was my father’s third cousin once removed,” she’d happily proclaim.

“Great Mom,” my siblings and I would say.  We were glad she had a hobby she loved, even though we didn’t share her interest.

It was one of the ways that my mother created a legacy for herself.  She lovingly compiled books about our family history, which we will keep and hope that a child or grandchild will inherit her passion and keep her work going.

It feels ironic that my Mom is now resting in one of the places where she actually spent a lot of time.  It is a pretty setting, which she would have liked.  The tombstones lay flat on the ground, with a metal plaque laying on top with the information about each person.  I asked my dad why some cemeteries have tombstones like that.  He didn’t know, but said that my mother preferred the upright grave markers.  She thought they had more character.  Of course she did.

Now at least I have a place to officially go “see” my mother. I think I’ll go there on Mother’s Day with my family and my father. Will it be a source of comfort?  A time for reflection? I hope so. I will join the ranks who dutifully go to the final resting place of their loved ones.  My mother used to say that she wanted a bench and a tree near her grave.  She was always thinking of other’s comfort and the serenity that the beauty of nature can bring.  A bench is not in place yet…I joked, “I’ll just sit on a nearby family’s  bench when I come see Mom.”

Other people have told me that Mother’s Day without their mothers is an especially difficult day. I am not anticipating it to be awful.  I think fondly back on recent Mother’s Days we spent together.  There was the time I was in the midst of being diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband figured he would get rid of the baseball tickets he had for Mother’s Day, thinking he would do something with our family instead.  “Not so fast,” I told him.  My mother and I, neither of us baseball fans, enjoyed a beautiful day at the ballpark – just the two of us.  She was always up for a new experience.  We enjoyed good seats, great weather, ballpark food and beer, the people-watching, the stadium vibe, and being together. Thinking back it makes me laugh how my mother chided me when I ordered a second beer.

“Susan, you’re driving,” she said.  “Yeah, in like three hours,” I replied.

Or last year when we served dinner to families at the NIH Children’s Inn.  She wasn’t feeling great from her illness, but she never missed an opportunity to help other people.

I will cherish memories of how my mother cherished me.  Like the time she shaved my head as I was losing my hair from chemotherapy.  She said it was one of the hardest things she had ever done.  But she did it and I was grateful.

I am grateful that she gave me life.  And she gave me my best friend – my little sister.  That she taught me a lot about how to live a full, meaningful life.  And gave me a few nuggets of wisdom about raising children. One that sticks in my mind is, “Have a routine, but be flexible.”  This has served me well, as raising my family has been anything but predictable.

I have never been a huge fan of Mother’s Day.  I think it’s a contrived, Hallmark holiday.  Every day is Mother’s Day. For that matter, I think every day should be “Be Kind to One Another Day.” My mother felt the same way. Of course we  acknowledged the day but it wasn’t a big production.

So it will be a different Mother’s Day this year. Instead of buying a card for my Mom, I’ll go visit her grave.