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.

Make a Wish

 

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I haven’t always known my mother’s birth date.  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!”.

 

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!

Enough

 

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I just knew there was a rule book for life that I did not read.  Guidelines for living that I never understood.  That’s exactly how it felt to grow up without a mother.  I felt everyone else knew the secrets to life, except me.

I was the perfect faker, the ultimate counterfeit girl, imitating others and impersonating the girls I read about in Seventeen magazine.  It was exhausting to be constantly watching others for cues as to what to say or do.

There are many of us walking on this earth, that for whatever reason, feel the same way.  I see the others now, and I know I was never really alone.  But today, when I notice someone who looks afraid or uncertain, I reach out to take their hand, literally or figuratively, so they can feel the warmth.

This life is too much for tender souls, but as we hold another’s  hand, we ourselves gain strength, and wisdom and safety.  We can feel safe and secure to be who we really are and know  that is enough.

We are enough.

Mothering Motherless

 

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Being a motherless mother has its own set of rules, fears and thought patterns.  I cannot speak for all motherless mothers, yet, what I’m about to say  will make perfect sense to them.

I used to have an idealistic vision of myself as a parent.  I was not prepared for this overwhelming feeling that I wanted my mother.  For me, because  my mother died when I was so young, I did not have a mature enough mindset to even begin to grieve her, until I became a mother.

As strange as it may seem, I felt blindsided with emotions and grief because all of a sudden I was stepping into ‘her’ realm, motherhood.  Which also meant, that something bad might happen.  It could happen to me and it could happen to my children.

I had an overshadowing feeling of fear.  I was afraid I was doing “it” all wrong, after all, I never even remembered being mothered, how could I know what to do?  I read Dr. Spock’s book, watched and asked my friends and constantly second guessed my ability to mother.  While this was happening, I was simultaneously severely over protective and fearful about everything.  Neurotic?  For sure.

These feelings would seem to settle down until a new phase of development would begin.  How do I know the right thing to do?  I couldn’t ask my mother and I needed her reassurance so much.  I kept telling my children that I loved them.  I wanted them to know, really know.  But, then the questions would start…what if they forgot? Or what if I died, would they be able to remember my words?  My voice?

Every since becoming a mother, I have had the stark realization that I could die at any time.  The year I turned 33 was the longest and most dreaded year of my  life.  My mother died when she was 33.  While I knew intellectually it (probably) would not happen, emotionally I waited for those 365 days to pass, so I would know for sure.

I have made it well past the age of 33 and now even both of my girls are past that age.  I’ve learned a lot about living from this fear of dying and I know in my heart, that my mother was giving me her love and assurance all along. I see it now and I can look back without staring, without blame.   I can forgive myself for some of those crazies and  breathe a little more deeply.

 

 

The Card by Nancy Malcolm

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I have very few things of my mother’s.  I know there wasn’t a lot but I also know my Daddy never wanted to let go of what he did save.  One of my most cherished possessions is a little birthday card my mother sent her mother in 1943.  Auntie Sue had found it in my Grandmother’s Bible and kept it all these years…for me.

This little card is sweet and simple.  She had written a letter and tucked it inside.  The letter was newsy and cheerful and mainly talked about her day.  When I first opened this precious card, I was struck instantly with tears and tenderness, for you see, this was the first time I had seen my mother’s handwriting.  I was mesmerized by the slant and curve of each graceful word.

“You’re the sweetest, best mother any girl could ever have.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have you.”  Love,  Sis

The blessings from this little card are profound and ongoing.  I now know her handwriting and have something she actually touched.  But, I also know how she felt about her own mother.  The love, respect and gratitude she expressed affects me deeply, and gives me more insight into her soul.

I would like to think that I would have written those same words to my mother if I had been given the chance.

“You’re the sweetest, best mother any girl could ever have.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have youl.”  Love, Nancy