When Pictures Are All You Have

 

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My whole relationship with my mother is through photographs.  I don’t remember talking with her or being held by her. I only know the likeness of our features through these black and white photos adhered to the page with black corner holders, neatly placed in an album.

My Dad managed to continue my “baby book” photo album until I was about 10.  The photos early on with my mother stop when I was 3. My mother was already sick and becoming unable to care for us.

Then, of course, there are the pictures of my brother and me after my mother died.  I see the stress on our faces, particularly my Dad.  He struggled to make us look nice and well

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My 5th birthday party 

put together, and no matter how hard he tried, we looked motherless.  He would pose us in our Easter clothes or Sunday best and tell us to smile. The outcome is obvious in these Kodak moments as he tried to make us look like our mother would have wanted. Alas, no pasted on smile could hide our broken hearts.

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My Dad, brother and I seven months after my mother died.

I learned a lot about my mother’s personality and countenance from her high school yearbooks, her college scrapbook, and my parents’ wedding pictures.   I saw her as a young lady, vibrant and energetic. I saw her laughing with friends and smiling on her wedding day. I read the endearing remarks from her school chums as they professed everlasting friendship and love.  Everything I know about my mother came from those that loved her and from these priceless black and white snapshots.

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Mom and Auntie Sue

 

 

My impressions of her came through the lens of someone else’s view, but for me, that is enough.  I’ll let their love and admiration, their memories be mine as well. When pictures are all you have, it has to be enough.

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My parents’ wedding

 

My Brother

 Impress Dad with these classy yet practical gifts.

I had a wonderful visit with my older brother recently.  It is always a tender feeling to be with the one person who knows my beginning; the one person who traveled the same path in childhood.

 

I am amazed to look into his eyes and see a part of our parents and even myself.  One glance into his eyes and I feel his love and compassion.  His eyes say ‘I know’, and that is enough for me.

 

We know our story together and yet we each have our own interpretation.  It is not uncommon for siblings to tell completely different tales of the same upbringing.  We are all individuals with our own experiences.

 

Yet, ‘we know’.  My brother is four years older than me.  When our mother died, his eight-year-old self already had so many more memories and experiences than my four-year-old self.  He knew.

 

Although I don’t recall us as kids, ever really talking about her death, he has been gracious with his memories through the years.  Some of his memories have become mine.  I’ll always be grateful for that.

 

Whenever I am fortunate enough to spend time with my brother, I feel comforted.  As our eyes lock, we see our story flash by.  Sometimes briefly and vague and sometimes, we stop to tell it again.
No one else in my life will ever share my story.  He is my link to our past and my anchor to the future.  He knows, and that is more than enough for me.

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Happy Birthday Mom

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Make a Wish
I haven’t always known my mother’s birthdate.  I’m sure my daddy thought about it as every September rolled around and she was not here to celebrate, but he rarely spoke of it.

About twenty years ago, Auntie Sue began calling me on my mother’s birthday, September 28.  She would call while I was getting ready for work, sometimes at 6:30 a.m.  “Hi honey,” she would say.  “I’m still sittin’ ugly, but I wanted to remember your mother on her special day.”  Then she would tell me a quick little story about her or just tell me something about her personality.  Most of the time we would laugh while she was telling her story, but we both knew our tears would flow as soon as we hung up.

 

As I’m prone to do, I imagine that I would have been a wonderful daughter.  I would have called, sent gifts and baked a cake.  I could imagine her eyes lighting up and us hugging as we both said, “I love you!”.

 

But, the truth is probably somewhere between my imagination and reality.  I might have been busy with my own life and children and only managed a phone call or card purchased hurriedly to make it on time.  I’ll never know how it might have been.

 

But today, I am wishing my mother a Happy Birthday.  Today, I am remembering a story Auntie Sue might have called to tell me.  I’m missing these two special ladies, but I’m happy they are together and celebrating within the Pearly Gates.  Who knows….they may be eating some heavenly delicious cake!  I hope so.

 

Happy Birthday Mom!

Resting in Peace

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My dad was always wanting us to visit our mother.  After church on Sundays, he would suggest we stop by and see Mom, to pay our respects.  My brother, dad and I would stand at my mother’s grave and silently stare at it.  Sometimes we would bend down to clear the grass or pick a weed so the marble headstone would stay pristine.   What a sight we must have been to other mourners; a grieving widower and two small children.

 

As a young child, I was never quite sure what I was supposed to do or say while we were standing there. I just knew Daddy needed it and he wanted us to have whatever closeness or comfort the visit could provide.  As strange as it may sound, for us, this was a perfectly normal thing to do.

 

As I grew up, the visits became less frequent, being relegated to holidays or important milestones.  In high school, I went even less often, partly because I was ‘too busy’ and partly because I was a little embarrassed to show that un-cool side of myself; that side that was still hurting.

 

When my brother or I would come home from college, my dad would always ask,  “Would you like to go by and see your mother?”  Sometimes we would ask him first and I could tell he was pleased, his answer always yes.  Often, as we stood there, he would tell us a story or share a memory about her.  He so wanted us to find solace there, just as he did.  I could tell he never wanted to leave, hating for her to be alone.

 

Through the years my desire to visit the cemetery changed.  It may have been because I had moved away and we were no longer just a short drive apart.  I especially wanted to visit her when I first married and became a mother myself.  I knew she really wasn’t in that grave, but I also had no other place to go where I knew her spirit would be.  I had no memories of our time together, no past heart-to-heart chats to recall.  I only had this place, where somehow I knew I could find her and she would be waiting there for me.

 

A few years ago, I went back home for a high school reunion and visited the cemetery, perhaps for the last time.  As I got out of the car, I slowly walked up the familiar hill to my mother’s grave.  The only difference this time was that my daddy laid next to her.  Strangely, as I stood there, I knew they both were at peace.  They were finally together again and I was satisfied with that realization.

 

I don’t know if I will ever visit that cemetery again.  My whole family resides there except my brother and me.  Grandparents, parents and an aunt all underneath the Panhandle sky.

 

I am grateful for the effort my father made to keep us all connected.  He did the best he could; I wholeheartedly believe that now.  My peace has come with time and work.

 

I may feel the need to return there again.  But, for now,  I know that their home is in my heart, not in that grounded space, and with that, I do find comfort.  The comfort I was searching for was inside of me all along.  

 

Dear Daughter,

 

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

It is impossible to predict circumstances or situations that might befall us.  You did not choose the life that was given you.  I did not choose to be motherless, just as you had no choice in being without a grandmother.

I feel it sometimes when I recall my own Grandma.  She taught me to sew and fixed me old-fashioned hot cakes in a cast iron skillet.  When I spent the night with her, she would tuck me in, piling home-made quilts on top before telling me she loved me.

I hear it in your voice when you say we spoil our grandkids by giving them too much or catering to their wishes.  I forget that you didn’t have that.  You didn’t have a grandmother’s love.  You may not know that it is a grandmother’s privilege to give this unconditional outpouring to her grandchildren.  I have heard it said that a grandmother is like an angel who takes you under her wing, she prayers and watches over you and she would give you anything.

Just as I cannot know what my relationship would have been with my mother, I cannot know how she would have been as a grandmother to you.  I cannot predict how the past might have been.  I cannot describe what never was.  But, I am sorry you didn’t have a grandmother.  I’m sad you missed that bond as you grew up.  I would give anything to have her here for you as well as myself.

It seems unbelievably unfair that we have had to navigate life without a mother and a grandmother, but, we have done just that.  Perhaps, in a quiet moment, we can reflect on our depth and our capacity to love even though our guide was not able to be with us.  Somehow, we learned to be in this world while receiving our direction from above.
Christopher Morley said, “It is as grandmothers, that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace.”   As I am coming into the fullness of my grace, I wish for you to feel your grandmother’s love through me.  When you see my interactions with the grandchildren, stop and feel the love for yourself.  Whatever I do, say, feel and express to them…..take it into your heart.  Let the little child within you be at peace, and as you do this, feel your grandmother’s love through me.  The healing balm of her love transcends time and space, we have only to believe…..and I do.
Love always

The Autumn of My Life

Old Grief and New LossThe Autumn of my life began in July 1977.  I was 8 months pregnant when I suddenly went into labor and delivered my daughter….stillborn.

As suddenly as a life is conceived, a life may end.  As much as we may want, anticipate and long for a child, we may equally grieve and mourn and fall prey to depression.  There is no guidebook or manual to read that instructs us on how to be…how to cope… or how to live with the sadness.

Because my mother died when I was very young, I didn’t know what to expect with pregnancy or delivery.  I didn’t know about children or even the smallest part of mothering.  You would think, however, that I would have known how to deal with the loss and pain, but alas.. I did not.

It seems I was completely inept at grieving.  All the years of missing my mother somehow tumbled into the loss of my child.  It became one and the same.  Old grief and new loss melded.  

Through time, of course, a slow mending began and healing took root, but parts were hard and lonely and dark.  Then finally, another pregnancy.  During this 2nd pregnancy, I dared not to plan or prepare.  I waited to think of names and I drug my feet at buying a crib.  Then somewhere after the 8th month, I took a breath and instinctively knew it would be ok.  I felt an inkling of peace, a boost of hope, and a firm resolve that no matter what, everything would be alright.  And, it was.

My Autumn would turn 40 years old this July.  In my mind, she is a baby.  A wee little soul flying back from whence she came.  I sometimes like to think that maybe my mother is holding my daughter.  Hopefully, my mother was there to meet her as she floated to the other side.  Perhaps, the two of them have enjoyed these 40 years together as grandmother and grandchild.  It heals my soul to think so.  My mother, who never lived to be a grandmother and my daughter, who didn’t live to be a child, living perfectly together, healed and whole; connected, just like I would have wanted.

Someday, when my time here is ended, I know those two will be there to greet me as I cross the bridge.  Hand in hand, two souls will welcome me and whisper, “We missed you!” My heart will know them instantly and in that moment, the Autumn of my life will be complete.

Good Girls

Good Girls

 

For most of my life, my only parent was my Dad.  My whole viewpoint came from a male perspective and yet, instinctively I knew there was undoubtedly another way.

My dad, although his male view was domineering, tried to teach me what being a woman meant, particularly as he thought my mother might have wanted.

Mostly he guided me with a firm hand and lots of rules, some spoken…some unspoken.  On one hand, his rules protected me and on the other hand, they stifled me.  I was always led by what “good girls” did or didn’t do and by what my mother would have wanted, according to my dad.

Did he really know what she would have wanted for me?  Did he even want to know what she would have thought?  He always assumed he knew best, but would she have thought so, too?  I wonder.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, girls were given fewer choices or options for their lives.  It was always an unspoken rule that I would go to college.  It was acceptable to be a teacher or a nurse or a stay-at-home mother.  My dad always said two things about college:  1. You need to go to college so you can find an intelligent, hardworking husband.  2.  You need to go to college in case your husband dies and you have to work someday.

Marriage was the main goal for all “good girls” because of course, we could not be expected to take care of ourselves.  We needed a man.

Good girls wore a white wedding dress and meant it.

Good girls went to Church,

Cooked dinner every night,

Were well read,

Could dance,

Play tennis,

Played a musical instrument,

Held intelligent conversations,

Always looked attractive,

Were frugal with money,

Sewed,

Were good mothers,

And had some outside activity ie.  bridge, church groups or volunteering

 

Some of these rules have served me well.  In fact, all of these rules, in and of themselves, are wholesome and commendable.  But, what about life outside of the rules?  What about the un rules?

Follow your heart.

Dare to dream big.

Take a risk.

Think for yourself.

Say yes.

Try something new.

 

I know my dad did the best he knew how.  I know that now.   I didn’t think so for many years; in fact, my anger at him would sometimes squelch all attempts to understand him.  My anger believed he was stubborn, selfish and unyielding.

I’ve come full circle.  I can live by my own rules now and yet still be appreciative of his.  I can be compassionate instead of angry and see that his rules were just his way of showing me love and structure.  I realize he might have been frightened beyond measure to raise a daughter without my mother.  I can finally let him be himself and I can be me.  I can dare to dream big, take a risk or follow my heart.  After all, I know the rules…all of the rules and I am peaceful in that knowledge.  Once a good girl always a good girl?  Maybe.