As time passes between my parents’ deaths, I find more and more Daddy and Mama are together, the two of them and sometimes with my sisters and and sometimes just with me, but we all seem to be younger, when our lives were more together than they are now and we shared the little things that glued us together.
It’s hard to believe, in some ways, that it has been five years since the last Mother’s Day my mama was alive. I know I acknowledged it with Mama, but she was already actively dying, so I don’t remember any real specifics about her last Mother’s Day.
A dear longtime friend of mine recently lost her husband prematurely, unexpectedly, and suddenly. As she recounted her early days of grieving to me, she said she noted his shaving cream and his toothbrush still where they were when he died, and she said they were present reminders that he was had just been there.
I got that in a way that those who’ve never lost someone near, dear, loved, and missed won’t get until it happens to them.
It’s the little things. The reminders that those we’ve lost were here and aren’t anymore. They are the kickers that sadden us, but also help us to remember.
And they are also part of the memories that bind us to them. And those are part of the whole package of the ones we’ve loved and lost that we cling to, because they keep the fires of our love, our commitment, our devotion to them alive.
When my daddy died, I flew home that day to be with Mama. I arrived late that night, Daddy’s obituary written on the plane (I can still remember that surreal feeling of being on a flight of strangers, wondering if I was the only mourner among them, putting Daddy’s life down on paper with tears falling) as Mama had asked me to do.
The last of Mama’s comforters who were with Mama until I could get there left, and Mama said she was tired and needed to sleep.
I hugged her and gently told her to go to bed, but instead of going to the bed she and Daddy shared since I could remember, she instead crawled into the hospital bed in the living room that Daddy had spent the last week or so in before he died.
My heart broke for her at that moment and I silently shed my own tears for Daddy, but I realized his smell must have been on that pillow and she needed that one more time to go to sleep.
There were little things we both did in the wake of Daddy’s death that reminded us of the bond we had with him.
After Mama fell asleep that night – October 15, 1998 – I traversed the house where their nights had fallen since 1991.
Mama had hung one of Daddy’s suits and shirts on their bedroom door. It was a burial outfit. I went into Daddy’s closet and found one of his favorite ties. Then I remembered that he always had cold feet, so I went into his sock drawer and got a pair of socks for him.
I put the tie and socks with the suit and shirt to take to the funeral home the next day.
Before Daddy’s funeral, Mama pulled out a change purse Daddy had carried most of his life. She put a dollar bill in it and handed it to me – to take and put in the inside pocket of his suit – and said, “Your daddy said you should never leave home without a dollar in your pocket.”
As I put that purse in Daddy’s suit jacket the next day, hours before his funeral, my tears flowed for the little things that he had left with and for us.
But it wasn’t until Mama died that I truly understood the magnitude of little things that keep us connected to the ones we love and how much we remember them after they’re gone.
When Mama lived with me, after her dementias and congestive heart failure (CHF) had all reached critical mass, I turned the downstairs of my house into our living space.
Mama was so short on oxygen, even on the concentrator, and was so weak physically (except for a couple of heroic and, for her, necessary jaunts upstairs), that she couldn’t make it to an upstairs bedroom to sleep at night.
We used the sleeper couch downstairs – she was always in bed earlier than I was, but until she finally ended up sleeping in the recliner because the CHF was so bad, I always slept beside her each night to be there for her when she got scared or when she needed to get up for whatever reason – and I always kept the bathroom light on downstairs, with the door slightly ajar, so that it wouldn’t be dark when or if Mama woke up.
Even after Mama ended up sleeping in the recliner and I ended up sleeping on the couch, I still kept that bathroom light on with the door slightly ajar.
And when, after Mama was admitted to hospice with heart disease, and we got a hospital bed in the living room and she slept there and I slept in the recliner, I still kept the bathroom light on with the door slightly ajar.
After Mama died, it was four months before I could turn off the downstairs bathroom light and put the door back to a normal position, even though I was upstairs again.
A little thing. But as I wandered through the house in the middle of those insomniac nights that followed Mama’s death, that bathroom light and the slightly ajar door gave me comfort.
I kept the downstairs bathroom intact with Mama’s things until I sold the place. It gave me a sense of comfort to walk in there and see our lives together at the end of Mama’s life.
I kept, and still have, a small wicker three-tier basket that had some of Mama’s stuff. In there is her hair brush and a yellow rat-tail comb (one I replaced because the original was lost, but it had some great significance to her, and her angst over it being gone was too great for me to bear), and some other odds and ends from her time here on this planet.
Little things. They mean nothing to anyone else but me. But they are a piece of Mama that I still have. Nothing much, but a little.
I dream a lot of Mama and Daddy.
In some of my dreams, Mama and Daddy are there together. But in other dreams, it’s either Daddy or Mama, but not both, but in these dreams of them, I am a child or young adult.
With Daddy, he and I are almost always solving a problem together.
Most of my dreams about Mama are either youthful or protective.
Either Mama is younger, before dementia and CHF, and we are on an adventure together (Mama was always the one who was game and willing to take risks).
Or Mama is frail and weak and it’s my job to take care of her and protect her from the dangers she faces (some are clear and some are not), even if it means I lose my life in the process.
In some dreams, Mama dies even though I’m there protecting her, and the only solace I have is that I was there and she wasn’t alone. In other dreams, I lose my life, but Mama’s okay (and that’s okay with me because it seems like in dreamland that’s how it should be).
Little things, these dreams. After all, the rational side of me knows they are nothing more than the mind processing life and death.
But they matter. They continue to connect me to Mama (and to Daddy) now and forever.
Good or bad, happy or sad, I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I love you unconditionally. I miss you terribly. But, oh, how I look forward to seeing you healthy, hearing, whole in every way, again soon. Until then, rest well.