With Mother’s Day approaching, Mom’s thoughts turned to her own mother.
It was decided that on Thursday morning we would visit her grave and place new flowers on it.
When I arrived to pick her up that morning, she met me at the door with a white garbage bag in hand. Within the garbage bag she had placed:
- pink artificial flowers
- a roll of paper towels
- a damp cloth sealed in a ziploc bag
- a sharp knife – its blade wrapped in a paper towel
- light green floral styrofoam block
As I placed the garbage bag in the back seat of the car, Mom instructed me, “Look under the front passenger’s seat and see if the little whisk broom is still there.” I did. It was.
The drive to the cemetery took 10 minutes at most. I talked, reminiscing as I drove, of things I remembered, from my childhood, of past trips through that part of town (only frequented when we visited Poppy’s grave). Mom corrected, added to, or confirmed my memories.
I wondered how she would react to visiting Nanny’s grave. She was almost 100 when she died several years ago. They had been close. Mom had never lived farther than a 15 minute drive from her mother – probably 5 miles, or less, as the crow flies. In her later years, Mom visited her every day – caring for her needs and making sure she was okay.
Both of my grandfathers died when I was six. The care of my grandmothers fell to my parents, especially in their later years when they lost their independence and ability to care for themselves. Nanny and MeeMaw were always a part of my childhood family, especially on Sundays. MeeMaw would drive to our house and ride to church with us. We would stop on the way and pick up Nanny. Our car would be full of people, conversation, and love as we drove to church. After church, we all would go home for Sunday dinner and enjoy the afternoon together. MeeMaw would head home, usually before we left for the evening service. Nanny would either accompany us, or we would drop her off at home on our way to church Sunday evening.
Mom’s thoughts were on her mother. Mine were on my grandmother – and my mother. And, on my father, who died last Father’s Day. I’ll admit, I looked forward a month to what it will be like to celebrate my first Father’s Day without him here. I wondered what Mom was feeling…thinking.
I turned right and we entered the cemetery. At the first crossroad I asked, “Left?” Mom nodded.
It had been 9 months or more since I had last been to her grave. The last time, I rode in the backseat as my dad drove us. Daughter and I had spent a week with my parents in the Fall and we had visited Nanny/Poppy’s grave and MeeMaw/PeePaw’s grave to place Autumn flowers on them. I knew from childhood, that to reach Poppy’s grave, I needed to bear left at every opportunity.
We talked little as I drove past graves. She pointed out changes and additions, noting where people she had known were buried and that she had never ventured into the older part of the cemetery.
Left, left, left, left…always left until we could go left no more. I pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road in the spot that felt “right.” To my left there was a field with grass and a border of trees. Ahead of us, the road stretched straight. To my right, graves stretched as far as I could see, evident only by the vases standing above the flat bronze grave markers.
“Do you remember which one it is?” I asked Mom. She was silent for a moment. Her eyesight is not good. Nanny’s and Poppy’s grave sits 75 feet or more from the road. As she gazed out the window, I closed my eyes and saw in my childhood memories the location of the grave site. (Brother and I had played there many times while awaiting the completion of the adults’ graveside work.) When I opened them, it was as if I had placed an overlay of my memory on the image before me – the grave stood out as though highlighted.
“Are you ready?” I asked Mom. She seemed hesitant…lost in thought. “I’m not sure which one it is, but I’m sure this is the right place.”
“It is,” I assured her. “Come on, we will find it – no problem.”
By the time I made it around to her door, she had it open and she was giving orders. (Mothers, don’t you just love ’em?!?)
“Get that white trash bag out of the back seat and look under my seat and get that little whisk broom out. We will need it to sweep off the marker. Be careful, there’s a sharp knife in the bag. We might need it to cut grass from around the marker. Here, let me take your hand. Let’s see…which marker is it…?”
I asked if she would like me to run ahead and locate the grave. She asked why I would want to do that and when I replied, “to save you a few steps”, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was fully capable of wandering the cemetery if necessary and locating the marker on her own.”
With her hand in mine (or was it my hand in hers?) we tottered across uneven ground as I lead her toward the grave I felt certain was the one she sought. When close enough to view the name on the flat marker, I pointed it out to her. “You can see that from here?” she asked. Her reply to my, “Um, yes, Ma’am. You can’t?” was a stern glare that made me smile. It was the same one she’d given me countless times over the past 55 years.
Within a few steps, she was upon the grave and stood looking down on the marker bearing the names of her parents…their birth and their death dates.
We fell silent.
I don’t know what thoughts held her captive or what memories flashed through her mind. I don’t know if she felt regret, sorrow, longing…I just don’t know. It wasn’t my place to ask…or to know. This was private – personal. I stood there as long as I could bear it. Emotions flooded me as memories of my grandmothers flowed through my mind. I was not around in their later years. Life had called me 400 miles away and given me a family of my own. I visited when I could. The last time I saw Nanny, she didn’t recognize me. The last time I spoke with her on the phone, she didn’t know me – it frightened her that a stranger knew so much about her and her family.
When I could stand it no longer, I turned from Mom and walked back to the white garbage bag and began removing items we would need. Mom (sensing my absence and the reason for it) said “The marker’s not dirty…a good sweeping with the whisk broom is all it needs. Be sure to pull the tags off of the flowers and put them in the garbage bag so they don’t litter the ground.”
We set about the task of cleaning the marker, removing the faded flowers, dumping water from the vase, trimming the floral styrofoam, inserting the flowers and arranging them.
When the task was done, we stepped back and fell silent once again. Lost in thought and in emotion, we stood looking at the marker. “Nanny would like the pink flowers,” I softly offered. “Yes, she would,” was Mom’s reply.
“I miss her so much,” Mom said. “Sometimes at night when I say my prayer, I almost forget and pray for her.” Tears stung my eyes as I allowed emotion to well up within me – the strength of which surprised me. I choked it off before it consumed me.
I asked if she would like to linger. She shook her head and said there was nothing more to be done there.
We talked quietly as we walked back to the car. My 85 year old white haired mother missed her mother…missed the mothering of her mother…missed the friendship of her mother…missed her mother’s prayers. As I held her hand – or she held mine – I knew that one day I would miss my mother and wondered how I would bear the pain and sorrow of it.
My sister-in-law faces her first Mother’s Day without her mother. I cannot wrap my mind around the emotions she must feel. A tear slips from my eye as I type this….
As a child, on Mother’s Day we wore red roses to church. Dad would pick them from a big rose bush across the street from our house – I can see him now, dressed for church, crossing the street to pluck four small red roses for us all to wear. My grandmothers wore white roses, not red. I asked why and was told that children wore red roses in honor of mothers who were living, and white roses in memory of mothers who had died.
It was hard to think of my grandmothers as children. They had been old forever as far as I knew. Their mothers long dead, I assumed they thought of them only at Mother’s Day when they placed the white rose in memory.
I knew Mother’s Day was difficult for many. I have friends who wish to be mothers and cannot conceive. Mother’s Day is emotional for them…they have no one to celebrate them as Mother. For some, Mother’s Day brings up bad memories of a less than perfect mother. And, others lost their mother to death and still grieve.
Mother’s Day was always a happy day for me. As a child, I loved my mother. She was the absolute best in all ways. Mother’s Day was the perfect opportunity to show my love for her. Even when I lived 400 miles away, I wore a red rose to celebrate her life and impact on my life.
This year is the first Mother’s Day I’ve spend with Mom in many years. I don’t know how many more there will be. No one knows. Last year, Father’s Day dawned with me at Dad’s bedside. No one thought that before noon he would take his last breath.
Mother’s Day is more than candy, cards, flowers and dinner out. Happy Mother’s Day is more than a red rose pinned to a lapel. It’s an emotional basket filled with memories, hopes, dreams, tears, sorrow, laughter, pain, birth, loss, fear, happiness, love, longing….
From childhood, I’ve understood the reason for Mother’s Day and have celebrated my mom and the others who have mothered me. This year I find myself beginning to understand why many find it to be a difficult day and why some choose not to celebrate Mother’s Day at all.
To those of you who see me wearing a red rose, know that beneath that rose beats a heart that weeps for the loss you feel today.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! And, to all the mother’s reading this – God bless you and thank you for all you do for those you love.
(P.S.)The words above were penned yesterday, in anticipation of posting today. Between the time I wrote them and now (1:31 a.m. Sunday), my mother became ill and was admitted to the hospital for tests. My family and I will take Mother’s Day dinner to her hospital room and spend the day celebrating her and her love for us. It’s not quite the day we had planned, but she’s still with us and for that I am grateful!
And, yes, a red rose will be pinned to my shirt. Be sure to look for it when you see me.
(P.P.S) 7:57 AM Sunday – received a call from the doctor at 6:30. Mom had an episode during the night…is in ICU on a respirator. Dr is unsure what is going on. Heading there now.