I was running around in a panic this morning trying to find a photo of my mom and I together. It's Mother's Day, and I woke up wanting to post a photo of my mom and I together on Facebook, along with some thoughtful and slightly sad status update about how much I miss her. I flipped through the few photo albums we have in our dining room and couldn't really find anything suitable. There is one image of my whole family at the bicentennial celebration in Amesville, Ohio, probably July 4, 1976. I'm about 8 months old, about the same age as Oscar is now. I'm as pudgy and fat as he is, being held in a sling by my dad. My brother is in the photo, too, tall and skinny and about to turn 7. Mom is in the frame, but just slightly, her back turned to the camera. Most of the other photos are of pets, or my brother and I, or of the two of us kids with my dad. Like me, mom was usually the photographer. And this morning I was hit with the sudden realization that I have very, very few photos of us together.
One of the things that's so hard about losing someone you love is how, as your life goes on, the time that you had with the person who is gone shrinks, fades away into the distance like the horizon line in one of those perspective drawings of a road, a tiny dot in time receding to the edge of the universe. The artifacts of your time together, the photos, letters, and memories, become valuable currency, precious archeology you will do just about anything to preserve. You know they are finite - there aren't any more of them to be made - so you are desperate to find and keep the entire inventory. This morning when I realized I have so few photos of mom and I together, I tried for a moment to remember actually having a photo of us taken, and could hardly think of one.
There are the group family photos at the Outer Banks, one taken every year from early childhood on, standing around the bronze busts of Orville and Wilbur Wright at the Wright Brothers' Memorial, which we faithfully visited every year. There are Christmas, Easter, and first day of school photos, usually taken by my mom, who had walked us down the driveway to meet the bus, or who was in charge of the Instamatic while dad played Santa or hid Easter eggs. There are funny ones, too - me at 2 surrounded by dry spaghetti I had thrown all over the kitchen, me at about 5 completely upset - crying even - because our television had been hit by lightning and destroyed, me at about 7 amongst the spring daffodils, to this day my favorite flower.
In my desperation this morning I flipped through our wedding album, knowing there is at least one photo in there of just my mom and I. I didn't find it, and instead settled upon one from the evening of our wedding. We got married at 10:30 AM, with a lunch reception following, and had a dinner at my parent's house that evening for immediate family. It was my mom's birthday, too - June 19 - so we surprised her with a birthday cake, even though by then we were all completely "caked out". We sang happy birthday to her and someone - maybe Kendra? - snapped a photo of her blowing out the candles. It was a beautiful day, of course, and a happy way to end it - giving my mom a little party of her own. We did not know then that it would be the last birthday she got to celebrate.
People can say whatever they want about grief fading. It's true that it does become less sharp and bright, becomes dulled with age - like a piece of sterling silver left out to tarnish. But it's still hard metal, still something so basic and elemental that even time doesn't truly break it down. There are people - and animals - whose loss we never get over, never fully comprehend. What changes, I guess, is us. I was 28 and newly married when my mom died. Now I'm 36 and a mother of two, married almost 8 years. Before she died, when she was very ill and unconscious much of the time, I sat in her room with her alone. I asked her to please find a way to be with me forever, to send me a sign or something when I really need her advice, or when I'm really screwing something up. I guess at the time I thought the signs might be really big - like billboards, obvious and impossible to ignore. But they are not. They are like tiny points on the horizon, like comets - more visible when you look away just a little bit. The place I feel my mother's presence the most, usually, is from somewhere inside of me - in my memories, my sense of humor, in my heart. In the woman I've become - the mother, the wife, the baker, the photographer, the writer of to-do lists that never quite get completed. Now I am the one almost never in the photo. Just like that - I became her without even realizing it.
A friend today wrote of my mother that "she was funny, smart, earthy, practical, a great cook, a deep thinker, who loved her children passionately". Almost never a day passes without me wishing my mom was here to know my kids, to share motherhood with me. She can't be here, though, to see her grandkids or to give me guidance. Instead, she has to experience this through me, share mothering by being here in my heart. I can only hope I bring as much friendship and love to mothering as she did. It was such a comfort to read someone else's words about my mother - to hear their memories. I dare say I saw a bit of myself in my friend's description of my mom. I can only hope to be all those things that she was, to bring some of those qualities to my own mothering.