Sunday, April 24, 2011

And Through Eternity, I'll Sing On

While I'm sure it wasn't God, Jesus or the church's intent, I found a piece of my mother's legacy on Good Friday.

While I had deluded myself into believing that because I knew my mother was dying that I would somehow be spared the deep despair I felt after my brother's death, it came anyway. The loss of my mother is distinctly different and as someone wrote me in the hours after her death " There is a pain so primal, so deep, so alone when you are suddenly motherless." That primal ache has only surfaced in recent days, realizing that I can't pick up the phone to tell her what Max said or did, or just to say "What are you doing?" I can't ask her what is was I said to her a day many years ago that made her laugh, or cry or mad. Those memories are buried with her.

Knowing Easter was coming brought anxiety to my sisters and me as we tried to figure out what to do. Mom always cooked the food, which wasn't anything fancy but the recipes were her's and she never wrote them down. So I went out today to buy the stuff we'd need and played a scene of my mother making potato salad over and over in my head as I tried to remember how it was she made it. By the time I made it to my mother's house I was inconsolable, knowing I could never ask her what the recipe was. And my timing was perfect because I walked in on two of my sisters crying basically over the same thing.

Which brings me back to Good Friday. I sat last night with Max in a Presbyterian church listening to an acoustic collaborative called New York Hymns, which had complied old poetry from the 1500 and 1700's that outlined the Stations of the Cross and set it to reflective acoustic music. I admit, I've never been to Good Friday Mass (as us Catholics call it) so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

As I sat and listened to the music, the theme of sacrifice and death overwhelmed me and I started to hear and see my mother's own journey through life in the story. My mother's whole life was about sacrifice. She gave up any sense of individual self the day my oldest sister was born and began to merge her life and identity into her children. She embodied motherhood in a way only certain mothers can or do. And she did it with little complaint. I say little because once, about 20 years ago, I remember my mother having a bit of a breakdown and yelling "I'm not your mother (as we argued with her, starting every statement with "MOM"), I'm Joan!" And I knew that in that moment, she was trying to figure out where we ended and she began. And I can honestly say, I'm not sure she ever figured that one out.

A few months ago, as my mother tried to come to terms with her impending death, she told me the story of watching her own mother die when she was 15 years old. In the last moment of my grandmother's life, she opened her eyes, smiled as if she had seen something so beautiful, closed them and let out a big sigh. And at the end of the story my mother said to me "And my mother was so perfect. She was everything a mother is supposed to be. She was everything I wasn't." And she started to cry. And I began to cry to because my mother, a woman who lost her husband at 44, raised the majority of her children alone, never remarried, and had one of her children living with her at some point in time until the day she died, believed that she wasn't a good mother. My heart broke for her in that moment because I realized that in all of the day to day of life, which is hard and thankless at times, my mother failed to realize that everything we had in life was owed to her.

So the pain is primal and its very lonely when you realize something as simple as your mother's potato salad recipe may be gone. But I worked at it tonight and I think I got it as close as I could have. Without it being my mother making it herself.