Just two weeks ago, I hugged her good-bye, and she smelled like flowers. My Mom loved gardening, painting, the natural world, and learning everything she possibly could. Now, at 72, she is gone as suddenly as if a tornado had whisked her away to Oz.
Though you might think it odd, the character Alice Johnson in "Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" sustains me in my time of grief. I always loved the fact that she acquired traits from her friends as they died, giving her strength and allowing her to vanquish the enemy.
I know I carry my mother with me. Even though I didn't call her as often as I should have, I thought of her all the time, telling people stories about her, things she had said, the way she had raised me and my younger brother and sister. In recent years, as hip problems and arthritis forced her into activity, she plunged herself even more deeply into her artwork. Her favorite thing to do with her five grandchildren was an art or craft project. My five-year-old son, KFP, told me today that he remembered her showing him how to mix colors.
If I am kind and value peace, I get it from her. Nothing upset her more than someone acting cruelly. She taught us children to respect each other, as well as the world at large. When I reached dating age, she sat down with me and told me that she didn't care who I dated: no matter their background, religion, race, or gender, if they loved me, she would love them.
I get from her my appreciation for the beauty around me. Though I didn't cultivate her skill for the fine arts, I've been an avid photographer since I was a child. In the last few years, I would take close-ups of flowers and sweeping landscapes, print them out, and give them to her so she could draw or paint them. I loved seeing the results, and even as her eyesight failed in her last years, I admired her use of color. She drew with emotion.
My mother was a thinker, and we took long bike rides to talk about everything under the sun. We used to giggle, imagining that if I could go back in time to the late 1950s, I could have been her teenage best friend.
She taught me to love music: playing record albums while she cleaned the house. Her favorite were folk albums and the soundtracks to musicals. I remember spinning wildly to "Jesus Christ Superstar" until the carpet spun.
Now, a week into this loss, the thoughts keep spinning. They swirl through my brain: a mix of memories, hopes, and regrets. I still feel as if I should have done more to rescue her from herself. She had a never-ending litany of medical complaints, and despite our urging, she was extremely slow to address them. Only two years ago, she finally got the hip surgery that gave her greater mobility. It was good to see her walking again, but she needed so much more.
My friends tell me to focus on the memories, not the regrets. They are right. Mom would have wanted that. She always said she wanted us to sing at her funeral, and I'm sure she meant it. I don't know if we'll be able to, but we've arranged for a musician to play one of her favorite songs, "I'll Fly Away" by Alison Krauss.
Though she has already flown away, I carry her with me. Tonight, as I head to Philcon, I am wearing a charcoal Vera Wang soft T-shirt with a black outline of a rose, in honor of her love of flowers. In my ears I wear chandelier earrings with multicolored gemstones, because she always courted color. I am wearing little black half-boots I bought today, because her sudden death reminded me that I need to do nice things for myself, not just for others.
If I were a movie character, these external signals would show you that I'd absorbed her spirit. But what really matters is that I carry her in my heart, my mind, my skin and bones. Her DNA, her nurturing, her love and support. Decades of it. Living on.