A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

I Didn’t Know

         

            I didn’t know I should play with my children or join them in creating art with finger paints, Play-doh, or watercolors.

            I never knew to let them help me in the kitchen, baking cookies or bread.

            Growing up without my mother short-changed my own daughters in ways I never expected, in subtle ways that surprise and sadden me.  My mother became ill when I was three years old and died when I was four.  I have no memories of playing with her.  I have no memories of her interacting with me at all.  My basic needs were met as a child, but playful interactions by an adult were extremely rare.

            I recall once, my father coloring with me, but when I didn’t want to outline each picture and make sure I was within the lines, he lost interest, feeling frustrated at my lack of perfectionism.  To this day I can feel my relief when he stopped correcting my coloring and just moved on.

 “Go play,” I would say to my girls. “Find something to do in your room or just go outside.”  But now I see my own girls teaching their children how to play games and think creatively.  Their interactions are sweet and tender and not rushed, the way I imagine my mother might have been with me.  They show patience by letting a little one crack an egg to help make cornbread or when they play ‘Go Fish’ for the hundredth time, seemingly having fun, and enjoying their time together.  It amazes me.

            As a mother, I was always hurrying, and if I am honest, I was always anxious.  Children hate to hurry and often it would be me causing their meltdowns, by forcing a quicker pace.  In the mornings, I wanted to get as much done as possible before heading out for school.  “Make your bed!  Brush your teeth!” I barked at them, while I hurriedly straightened the house, wanting to leave everything in order.  Rushing a child is like herding snails, it rarely works out well.  My underlying anxiety was focused on doing ‘it’ right.  “Am I doing it right?”  I constantly asked myself.

I only knew how to be productive, as in working.  I worked at work, but I also worked at running my home and parenting my children.  My heart was filled with love for my girls, but I didn’t know how to relax and enjoy the moments together.  An impromptu tea party would have made more memories than mess.   If I could only go back.

            As a working mother with two girls, I felt exceedingly inadequate and always lacking.  I lacked time, energy, and patience.  With deep shame, I confess my short fuse and agitation at their questions and childish dallying.  I felt I had to run a tight ship, remembering to color within the lines.  I didn’t know there was another path with less resistance and much more peace.

            I began my grandmothering in much the same way.  When my grandson was born, I was more than excited; I was genuinely in awe of this child of my child.  I felt honored to hold him and tend to his needs.  But soon I became aware of an underlying tension that threatened my happiness and serenity.  It lived right under my skin for months.  One afternoon when he started to cry, I walked him around the house and patted him, but nothing would work. “Shhh shhh,” I whispered in soothing tones.  No nourishment or jiggling or patting; nothing would quiet him and so without even being aware, tears began to pour down my face and I sobbed right along with him for reasons different than his own.  I had to lay him in his crib, and I sat sobbing in a chair nearby.

            “Dear Lord,” I prayed.  “Help me.  Calm me.  Help me to be enough.  Forgive my anxious, anger at not being able to soothe him.  Change this, change me and heal this hole.”

My mind shifted that day and my heart cracked wide open with such reverence, and love that I finally saw my truth and felt a change within me.  I felt calm, and I realized that my trying to be perfect, to do “it” right, only caused me to feel less than and kept me from just loving.   In the time it took to whisper my prayer, I hugged that little one to me and felt a peace inside that began from the inside out.  I was able to slow my breath and heartbeat and when I did, his did too.

“Oh,” I thought.  “This is what it feels like.” And I took a long, deep breath.  If ever I start that anxious dissent or forget to enjoy the little moments, I have only to whisper, “Help me.” And the calmness returns.  I can breathe in the joy and settle my insides.  I can stay in the present moment and let go of unattainable perfection that threatens to flatten me like a penny run over in the streets.

            And so, my house is messy now when our grandchildren are over.  Train tracks, Hot Wheels, and glitter.  Dress-up clothes, blocks and books are scattered about because we have fun together.  Playing, imagining, laughing; all the things that create a bond of love.  The love in my heart is demonstrated as I showed them through my time and attention how important they are to me.

            Last year, my little granddaughter and I spent an early morning watching the snails on our patio table.  We created the Snail Motel and talked about life as we herded the snails back into their make-shift housing.  And as much as I feel I didn’t know these things while my daughters were growing up, I do know this now.  That morning on the patio was delightful and pure and memorable, and I am filled with gratitude for another answered prayer.

            My grandmothering has become an amends to my daughters.  Amends for the things I didn’t know back then.  Amends for so much hurrying.  Amends for not enough play, silliness, and laughter.  Amends for too much stress.

            And almost as important is the amends to me.  For after all, I did the best I knew how.  I just didn’t know.

            But I do now.

Hello, Old Friend

Hello, Old Friend

            It matters not if your mother has been gone for six weeks, six years or sixty-four years, as mine has.  A mother’s love was our first love and remains that anchor always.

            Sometimes unexpectedly, I will feel an ache deep inside that sits heavy like a boulder and has the makings of an avalanche.  I go about my day, my life, as if there was no weight upon my heart, but my insides recognize this visitor.  I am reminded of it, this faint knowledge that it’s almost Mother’s Day, and I hope the rockslide of emotions don’t start.  I want to stay the course and keep everything in its place.

            I love being a mother, myself, although I have endured times of angst as I stumbled along trying to do “it” right.  Being a mother and grandmother has been my biggest blessing.  My daughters have grown up right before my eyes and no longer make me macaroni angels or hand painted plaques that say, “Prayer Changes Things.” They are always so good to shower me with gifts and thoughtful cards that I save in a big box, safely tucked away.  Someday, when I am gone, they will find it and laugh at me for saving so much, but that’s alright, I could not bear to throw away their words or thoughtfulness.

            Yet, when it comes to Mother’s Day, I fall silent.  I feel uncertain of what to do with myself and I am deeply aware that the sadness I feel is not in aligned with the way most of the world thinks.

            I want to cry and sit alone with my sadness.  I want to look at pictures and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine.  And, at the same time I want to go with my daughters for a long walk among flowers and beautiful trees, feeling the sunshine on our faces, confirming I am alive.  My feelings are a contrast as day is to night. 

            I want to celebrate my mother.  I want to celebrate being a mother and my daughter being a mother.  But there’s that ache deep inside that wants nothing to do with sunshine, long walks or brunch.  That ache says, “You’re alone, so be alone. No one understands anyway.”  That ache makes me separate and odd because I hurt on a day others feel joy and gratitude.

            I’ve long ago made sense of being left motherless.  I understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and more than that, I understand that this ache will not kill me.  While there are times I thought it might, it has become an old friend, although unwanted, that is familiar and will retreat after a time. This old ache will go back to where it lives, underneath my heart, lodged over to the side.  But it will come back another time, perhaps unannounced, smaller in size. 

 Please don’t feel sorry for me, as that is not what I want.  I know I am okay.  I am not alone on this motherless journey; I know there are far too many who travel with me.  I want them to know it is fine to have feelings that go back and forth.  It is okay to have the ache and still want the sunshine.  It will not always hurt this bad, so go ahead and feel.  God in His wisdom has given us the ability to see both sides, to feel both sadness and sunshine. 

            “And gradually his memory slipped a little, as memories do, even those with so much love attached to them; as if there is an unconscious healing process within the mind which mends up in spite of our desperate determination never to forget.”
― Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds  

Listen

Story and photographs by Nancy Malcolm

I was not prepared for the relationships with my grown daughters.   I am forever their mother, but I am not needed as a parent anymore.

That was and is a hard dynamic for me to change.  We wrestle with control and often talk in circles, trying to be heard.  We have a back and forth, push and pull dance with multi-meaning dialogues.  They seem to understand this much better than I do.

“Mom, I KNOW.  I know what I need to do,” I hear them say.

“Mother, you raised us, don’t you realize we KNOW what you think?” they recite.

“Mom, I just want you to listen.  You don’t have to fix anything or give advice.”

But, sometimes I say ‘it’ again, only louder or rephrased, thinking they didn’t hear me or quite understand my point.  The real point is, I think I know what is best for them and what they should do.  On one such occasion when frustrations were high and tempers rising, I heard a voice inside myself whisper, 

“Listen.  Listen with your heart not your ears.”  

My lips clamped shut almost instantly, but my self-righteousness still wanted a voice.  Smugness is a deadly sin you see, and even a shaft of light cannot penetrate the hard outer shell of a superior, puffed up wisenheimer.  Old habits are hard to break.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.  In my childish mind I envision myself as the perfect daughter.  So perfect in fact, she would never have left me.  I would have been obedient, and hung on her every word.  I would have sought her wisdom and cherished our talks.  I would give anything to hear her voice and listen to her point of view.  I saw myself that way and I admonished my girls for taking me for granted.  My self pity reminded me that I had no mother to listen to and my ungrateful girls had me.

“Listen,” my whisper said.  “Heart listening opens closed doors, hushes smugness, sends love not loathing…listen.”  

My sanctimonious attitude does not listen well.  It strains to get one more word in.  It plans a good comeback.  It is selfish and self-centered.  

I heard an acronym once:  WAIT- Why Am I Talking?  There are very few times in life when you should keep talking and talking.  Most of life is listening, at least if you want happy relationships and peace.

 “Listen” my whisper said.  “Hush.”

Listen to the ocean when you are there.

Listen to the toddler ramble on about his musings.

Listen to your husband’s snore and be grateful he is alive.

Listen to the elderly person in the grocery store and ask a question.

Listen to your heart, your gut and your best friend.

I wanted my daughters to listen to me.  But, what I really wanted was to be heard.  My thoughts, my heart, and my words were all vying for a way out, expressing what was inside.  My outside didn’t match my inside and I wanted the real me to be seen and heard.  Instead, I said to my daughter, “You’re not listening to me.”  Neither one of us was listening and we ended our conversation agreeing to disagree, leaving dissatisfied and hurt.

Finally I got quiet and sat with my hand over my heart, a practice I knew, but had conveniently forgotten.  “What’s wrong?”  I asked myself.  “What can I do to make you feel better?”  And then I listened.  I heard myself ramble on about my feelings and fears; my doubts and worries; my suggestions for my daughter.  Sometimes my worries are so vivid that I can’t seem to stop the cycle of obsessive thoughts.  I want my girls to be happy and I mistakenly think I know what is best for them.  I forget to remember that my adult children must listen to themselves.  They have their own inner guidance and wisdom to tap into and their own hearts to follow. They are wise, strong and courageous.  

 So, I listened to myself and in the process I did feel heard, all without continuing to talk.   My shoulders lowered, my breath deepened and my body finally felt relaxed.

“Go on,”  I whispered to myself.  “ I’m listening.”

Remembering Happiness

Clare and I

 

In 1959 I was six years old, missing a front tooth and playing dress-up with my neighbor, Clare, and my black cat, Sylvester.   For some reason, we always had a black cat and always named each one Sylvester, whether they were male or female.  Sylvester was not an original name, for sure, but convenient when one of the cats would run-off or meet with a tragic demise.  We never had to wonder what to name the new cat.

Clare’s daddy was a doctor and they lived directly catty-corner behind us in a large two- story house.  Our street was like a dividing line between upper and middle class houses.  Our house, the house my mother died in, was at the lower end of middle, but Clare didn’t seem to mind.  She had this large modern house, a little sister, a doctor daddy, and a beautiful, vibrant mother who drove a station wagon and baked cookies.  All of these things I did not have, especially the part about having a mother.

My daddy, although usually not generous with my mother’s belongings, had obviously allowed use of a few of her things for this dressy occasion.  My white doll blanket skirt was held up by a brooch belonging to Mama and as most elegant women I knew, I had a fake fox fur around my neck.  Completing the ensemble was a smart white, plastic headband purchased from Woolworths downtown.  It was the hallmark accessory for most of my early years.

Clare, one year my senior, went to a private Catholic school, while I attended the neighborhood elementary.  She was taking violin lessons and had Brownies after school, while I was walked straight home after school by our live-in housekeeper or my older brother, Jimmy.  I was always wishing she had more time to play or that I had after school things to do, too.

I don’t know why my daddy took a picture of us that day.  I could speculate and say maybe he was celebrating my missing tooth, or my recovery from chickenpox, but he was not usually one to celebrate those types of things.   Maybe it was because I had on a few of my mother’s things, which reminded him of her absence.  I’ll never know the reason, but I’m glad he did.  I’m also grateful for Clare.  Her parents were aware of my mother’s passing and they generously included me in their picture-perfect family.  They extended the hand of fellowship and normalcy to a little girl who was dauntingly unsure of her place in this world.

Because my mother had died in this house, my daddy could hardly wait for us to move.  When our lease was up, we moved down the street into an old parsonage that had big floor furnaces and window unit water coolers.  Our new, old house was bigger but too far for Clare and me to play as often as before.  We eventually went our separate ways, but she was my childhood friend for a season of time, distracting me with warmth and laughter.  Her friendship brightened my days and put this smile on my face, a face that was struggling to remember what happiness really meant.

No One Wants To Hear My Story

Nancy 4 yrs old

Four-year-old me

No one wants to hear my story anymore.  The story about my mother dying when I was only four years old.  No one wants to admit that I still have pain and grief over losing her because I am sixty-seven years old now, and should be way past the acceptable time for mourning.

For so long I have felt societal rules about grief and the invisible timeline for sadness.  ‘Hurry up,’ it says.  ‘Get over it, so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable around you.’  My pain hurts others and touches them in a place so deep that they want to deny it is even there.  No one says these things of course, but they side-step around me and cleave to the edge of the room or conversation as if I might poison them, or worse.

I’ve gotten very selective about who I share my story with.  Most people are visibly shaken to hear that I grew up without a mother’s touch, but then they really don’t want to know more.  It’s just too much, especially women I know who still have their mothers and who complain a little about having to take them places or call too often.

They are uneasy admitting that they have a different story.  That their mothers were vividly alive, engaging, and understanding.  Some are embarrassed to tell me good things about their mama’s and to some, I want to say, “Be grateful!  Be glad you can still tell her you love her and breathe in her scent.”  But, no one wants to be told, “Be grateful.”  It’s like coaxing a child with, “Tell the nice lady thank you.”  And the child says, “Thank you.” with very little feeling.

“I am grateful,” they say and maybe they are, but it is really to silence me more than anything else, and then the subject changes.  I am never ready to change the subject, but I hear the whisper, “No one wants to hear your story.”

“Am I too much?” I ask myself.  “Am I just supposed to stay quiet and not tell my truth?”

It stifles me and mashes my spirit like a corset that labors my breath.  Sometimes I even become ashamed or worse…silent.  The grief turns in on me and feels sticky and complicated, like an expiration date that tells me it is too late to talk about this, the pain should have run out by now, but it hasn’t.  It has lessened, of course, but it’s there right under the surface….waiting.

Please don’t shy away from those who have a different story.  Pray for enough peace to hold space for those who grieve.  It will bless them and you, beyond measure.   How else do we learn from each other?  How else do we really know another soul?  Don’t be afraid to witness someone else’s pain.  Feel it together, talk about it, breathe through it, and embrace each other.  Hold the ache in a sacred place and dare to learn something new about yourself, dare to hear the story. We all have one to tell.

Just Do It

209

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve been discreetly cautious around water.  I detest the icy water of a swimming pool or even the ocean before the sun has warmed the tide.

I’ve never been one to Baywatch-run into the ocean and frolic in the waves, and I watch with envy those that do.  I’m the one at the swimming pool who gets in inch by inch trying to gradually get used to the water.  I sometimes hear the whisper, “Just do it.  Jump in.”  But I argue with myself, listing all the reasons I can’t do that.  I don’t want to get my hair wet, it’s too cold, or I feel fat.

I’m getting tired of the inch by inch life that weighs me down until I cannot move.  I’m disgusted by my lack of adventure and cautious moves.  I’m ready, I think, to embrace a more fulfilling way of life.  If others can do it, why can’t I?  This hesitancy is a long-ago habit that started when my mother passed away.  My four-year-old mind could not fathom the loss of my mother, but her death left an imprint on my body and soul.

That’s when I began my demure misgivings.  Shyness and fear took hold of me like a creeping fog from the sea, enveloping my very spirit.  I didn’t hear the whisper then;  I only felt the grip of an uneasy foreboding.  “Shrink back,” it beckoned.  “Hold back,” and so I did.  It’s much easier to shrink back than to push forward.  It instantly felt like a safe place to be and I began to try it with every situation.  My carefree childhood came to an abrupt halt and I became wary of life in general; my maturity at a standstill.

This past summer I heard my grandchildren prodding me, “Jump in Nannie, it won’t be cold for long.  Just do it!”  I sat on the steps of the pool watching them splash and play, their joy out front for all to see.  Where did their bravery come from?  It never occurred to them to shrink back or limit their fun.  I envied their unbridled joy.  

As I began my slow descent inch by inch into the water, I was aware of their growing impatience with me.  They stopped encouraging me and I felt the sting of disappointment from them and myself.   On my deathbed will I say, “I’m so glad I didn’t get in the pool and play?  I’m glad I shrunk back?”  I know I will not feel that way.  I fear my regret will be heavy and I will be deeply saddened that I missed their screams of delight and wet grip around my neck.  I’ll ask myself why?  And so, against my fearful judgment, I did jump.

I jumped for all the shrinkers who let the icy voice of fear stop them in mid-stride.  I jumped to prove to myself that I could, and I jumped for that little four year old who lost her mother and was afraid of life.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who was a pioneer in near-death studies, knew this very fear and spoke these wise words, “Live, so you do not have to look back and say: God, how I have wasted my life.”  Never again, I tell myself.  Never again will I shrink back from life, although I know there is a big chance that I might, at least a little.  I have made progress and perhaps that is all I can do.  It’s a good start, and today I can let that be enough.

This Motherless Daughters’ Dream

Mother's Day for a motherless daughter

In the spring when flowers come alive with vivid colors and my birthday, on the first of May has come and gone, I unconsciously start to feel anxious like I’m skating on a thin layer of ice.   My life gets smothered with unease and dread, my two old friends since childhood.  The dread of marking another year without my mother.  Another Mother’s Day to sit quietly by and watch the whole world celebrate.  Another milestone with no memory attached, just a blank hollow space that looks like the mother-shaped hole inside me.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old and now at sixty-seven, I still cannot conjure a voice or face or hand that might remind me of her.  I’ve never caught a whiff of her perfume lingering in the air and turned to see if she was near.  “Did she even wear perfume?”  I wonder.  

Lest you think me selfish and ungrateful, my appreciation and value of being a mother myself is at the top of my gratitude list.  I am grateful for the blessing that daughters and grandchildren bring.  I humbly acknowledge these beautiful gifts of life and what sweet music it is to my ears to hear them call me Mother or Nannie.  But, the little child in me struggles.  I struggle every year with those Hallmark card commercials and advertisements for “a free rose at brunch”.  I struggle with thoughts of envy and chide my friends who still have their mothers, to cherish this time before it slips away.

In the sixty-three years without my mother, I have never dreamed of her until just last year and even then, I did not see her face.  I often have asked God why.  “Please,” I would beg, “send me a dream or vision of her to let me know I am not alone.  Help me feel her presence.”  I’m always afraid I will forget her.  Afraid, my soul will not know hers when we meet again.

In my dream, everything and everyone was in black and white, except one person.  I was running down a crowded street and searching frantically for my mother.  I spotted someone in a bright red dress and I fought my way through until I reached the red dress and I touched her.  Her face never really came into focus, I just knew it was her from the thick brown hair and the red dress, the dress she was buried in, I was told.   As she turned around, I asked, “Are you, my mother?”  I remember thinking in my dream that I should hug her or pull her to me, but it was all very quiet and serene.  She nodded yes and gave me her hand.  We stood on that crowded street and looked at each other for a while.  It was quiet all around us, like in a bubble, and I felt she couldn’t stay very long.  I didn’t want to let go of her hand, but she let go first and touched my arm, saying, “I’ve been here all along.  You are going to be ok.  You are going to be just fine”, and with that, she was gone.

When I woke up, I could not believe that I had finally had a dream of my mother.  But, I felt sadly dissatisfied because it was fleeting and strangely generic.  I wanted longer.  I wanted her to hold me and explain her thoughts….tell me she loved me.  I wanted a reunion.  Was I being petulant, like a little child that didn’t get her way?

I have since had time to process this dream and think rationally, as best I can.  There is an old gospel song entitled, “We’ll Talk It Over” by the Gaither Vocal Band.  The gist of the song is that we only know in part why things happen in our lives, but when we get to heaven, we have a chance to ask God why and talk it over.

I don’t know why my mother had to die or why my brother and I were chosen to be among the motherless.   I may never know why my dream was short and took so long to come.  But, I can choose to believe that in the by and by, as the song says, I’ll have the chance to ask my Creator why and finally understand.

And, I can choose to believe what my mother said to me in my dream.  She has been with me all along, for if I search, I can recall her presence amidst a crisis or two and her hand in mine when I needed her most.  I can choose to believe that she has missed me as much as I have missed her, and in the by and by, we will meet again.

 

I am going to be ok.

I’m going to be just fine.

I know I will.

 

 

Angel Wings

Angel Wings

written by Nancy Malcolm

 

I’ve never really been a good sleeper.  I remember waking up early that morning while it was still dark outside and padding into the living room.  My father had closed the door leading into the bedroom he and my mother shared. I imagine he scooped me up and asked why I was up so early, as he sat us in the rocking chair.  He might have told me my mother was gone, but I don’t remember his words, only being held and rocked.

In the way that four-year-olds know things, I knew something was wrong with my mother.  I’m sure I was told about her illness and hospital stays but some sixty years later, I cannot remember the details.  The adults in charge of me most likely explained the circumstances in simple, cryptic words appropriate for a child. Only much later would I learn that my mother had died in the night and that my dad was rocking me as we waited for the funeral home to take her body away.  I find it unnerving that I awoke at just that time. Did her soul pass over my sleeping frame to tell me goodbye? Was I awakened by an angel’s kiss or my father’s sobbing?

All that mattered to me at the time was the warmth of my daddy’s lap and the rhythmic creaking of that old rocking chair.  It would be years later before I would feel the complete impact of her death and even now, I am taken aback at the enormity of my loss.  Our loss.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.

I have only two vivid memories of my mother.  One was the day we brought home a wheelchair for her.  After the surgery to remove her brain tumor, her face was droopy on one side, her speech was slurred and she had trouble balancing enough to walk.  Because I was only four years old, I was told these facts, I don’t remember them first hand. I truly have no memory of my mother’s face, voice or mannerisms.  My dad always said that our mother was very frustrated with her inability to care for my brother and me after the surgery.  My brother was eight years old and with us being so young, I’m sure we took advantage of her slow mobility. The realization that she could no longer keep up with us was probably more than she could bear.  She was only 33.

I remember my dad and me pushing the wheelchair into the house and us laughing and talking.  But, she didn’t want it. I can see her now, standing in the living room in her robe. She had one hand on the piano to balance herself as she said with her garbled speech, “No.  Don’t need it.” She cried and was angry and shoed it away with her good hand. My brother and I were sent to play outside while my dad tried to calm her down. I do not know if the wheelchair stayed or not, but I know that she became resigned and despondent after that.  Her life as it had been as a healthy, young mother of two, was over.

My second memory is of my mother’s funeral and my dad picking me up to look at my mother in her casket.  He wanted me to kiss her goodbye. I didn’t want to because her lifeless body scared me. My reluctance made him more sad and upset.  

 My mother looked as though she had been gently laid in her final satin bed.  She wore a bright red shirt-waist dress made from a heavy wool fabric. While her face had been stitched carefully to disguise the drooping eyelids and mouth,  her dark brown hair looked fresh and stylish and her lips, painted in a blood-red matte finish, looked pleasant, not pained.  

“Don’t you want to kiss your mama goodbye?” he prodded and held me up to see her.  He leaned over with me so I could kiss her cheek and I kicked my legs and began to cry.  

What a sight that must have been, a young widower and his two small children standing at the casket.  As a child, seeing my mother’s body stiff and unnatural had to have been frightening.   I realize now that my father was lingering at her side.  He didn’t want to let her go. He knew that for the casket lid to shut and for her grave to be filled meant the end of his life as he knew it and ours too.

Years later I would recall that story to a therapist and for the first time, someone acknowledged for me how scary that must have been.  That was the first time I admitted it to myself. Unknowingly, my dad had made me feel ashamed at not wanting to kiss her goodbye and I was finally able to see the scene through a different lens.  For most of my adult years, I was petrified to attend funerals and I couldn’t figure out why. I would make up stories saying why I couldn’t attend and if I couldn’t get out of it, I would become anxious and shaky, nearly making myself sick.   I had a true fear of death and seeing a dead body and that did not change until much later in my life.  

There is a huge distance between my mother’s angel wings and the harsh reality of death.  My childlike mind never fully understood it or separated the two. My father would tell us our mother was an angel in heaven now, and still, we felt the fear and ugliness of death.  How can they both exist?

To this day, I don’t like loud noises such as gunshots and slamming doors or references to the dead coming alive or anything unpredictable that would make me jump.  I still cover my eyes or leave the room if a television program seems too frightening or the music too intense. It’s all just too much for me. I’ve been afraid since way back when…afraid of everything.   And for me, real life has been much more disturbing than make-believe. As an adult, I understand the process and realities of death, but the child in me is chilled to the bone and I can’t stop the shiver.

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