I’ve thought a lot over the past few years about your death. Not because it feels imminent, but because you are 77, and time together being what it is, our days as mother and daughter are finite. My death still feels far away, still a distant thumping on a distant drum…but yours is close enough to hear every nuance of its approach.
What would my last words to you be?
I would hope that you already feel the honeyed sweetness of the thick and tangible love I have for you, as my mother, my muse, my teacher and my best friend. You have taught me something every day you have been present in my life – even during the times when I could not hear or appreciate the wisdom you had to offer – the love under your words brushed my tears away and tucked loose strands of hair behind my ears –
You’ve lived your life in fabric, in stories, in the mossy air of the woods where you played as a child. The house you own is only a stone’s throw from that childhood home—though the area is now awash in strip malls, restaurants, and Mom and Pop stores— so it is nothing like what you remember. I think about your life and our relationship as I lie in bed at night, a blurry newsreel of weathered clippings running across the screen of my mind. So far we’ve had twenty-three-years more of each other’s company than you did with your own mother. You’ve outlived Nana by fifteen years now. Each day that passes, do you measure that space between the time your mother was given and the time you have left?
What do I want for you now? What can I say, so there’s nothing left unspoken?
Live the remaining days of your life paying attention to the important things rather than the urgent ones.
Do less housework; play more word games with your twin grand babies. Hold Tak in the moonlight. Sing to Masa as you tuck him in.
Collage your soul onto paper, slices of cardboard, strips of fabric.
Enjoy the cool darkness of the mornings drinking cup after cup of Earl Grey tea. Run your fingers along Zap-cat’s spine, watching the ridge of her back rise under your touch, her gray fur gleaming in the sunlight.
Love the present moment, the only glowing hour in which we can ever live. Let love be the only part of your life that you remember when you go.
Let go of all the anger, pain, sorrow, and regret that colored your middle years.
Realize that you have made me into the woman that I am; the artist that I am; the teacher, the muse, the guide…all of it is dusted with your fingerprints. Realize that the hours that we spent in each other’s presence will be what will sustain me after you have gone. There is nothing physical—like a bracelet or a chair or a set of dishes—that could do anything to console me when you die. It will only be my memories of our sojourns into the city, trips through the San Juan Islands, Seattle, Santa Fe, New York, and Los Angeles, that will carry me across that wide river without you in my life.
When I think of you at the time of your passing—although I hope it is years from now—I promise to remember your excitement watching the deer graze on the purple-blue pod-like flowers in front of the house on Portal Drive. I pledge to remember savoring a slice of warm cherry pie on your 71st birthday, with Michael there as my witness. I will remember the conversations we had every week on the phone – even though I know there will be times when I will reach for the phone and actually start to dial the number – before realizing that I cannot call you ever again. I will recall watching you shop in the fabric store in Pike Place Market, rubbing the grain of each of the bolts of brightly printed cotton, trying to choose between chili peppers and apples, bamboo green and corn yellow, Japanese prints, and cowboy boots. There was always too much to choose from; too much to love, plan and wish for; always this cup spilling over onto everything it touched.
You were born during the dust bowl and desperation of the Depression. To me, you rise phoenix-like from the ashes of that violent childhood. You are that tiny girl with dirt on her face and a naked dolly tucked under her arm, standing in her striped coveralls, in front of a tar paper shack in Winslow, Arizona. You are the child bride who mourned the loss of your first child before your 21st birthday. You are the mother and wife who sat with Nana on the morning she died. You are the woman who paid the mortgage and walked the dog and cooked the meals and made do. You were often savaged by life, but you never gave up. You believe in the invisible power of prayer. You believe that your life is a vessel of spirit.
You are my mentor as well as my mother. If I have learned to fly in this life, it is only because you helped me grow glorious, iridescent wings.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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