Mother's Day Without Mom
On Mother’s Day, a day created by the Hallmark company to sell cards, I’m constantly reminded I don’t have a mom. This is my third one without her so it has gotten easier, but in the beginning every inhale and exhale included thoughts of her absence. Nothingness replaced her somethingness.
Her voice. Her sense of humor. For such a short person she had such a giant presence.
In those first weeks, my step-dad Vernon missed her beyond words, too. I could tell by his face and the way he held himself. They had daily routines: he squeezed fresh orange juice for her, they played scrabble, worked on quilts, watched movies. A retired Navy-man craves structure and lists, and her things reminded him too much of her.
Books… jewelry… fabric…
So I think it was during our first Sunday night dinner after she died when I took a deep breath and said to him, “Before you get rid of anything, run it by me first.”
He nodded. Everyone is different, but for us, it was the best way to handle it. Boxes trickled in gradually. When I got home from work, sometimes a box waited in the mudroom. As I gathered emotional strength, I picked it up, brought it inside, folded back the lid, and dug through it like an archaeologist... sifting for value, sentimental or otherwise.
The day I opened my first box, lyrics to the eighties song “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley crossed my mind: “It’s interesting when people die, leave us dirty laundry.” I retrieved bottles of half-used lotions, opened caps and sniffed, put some onto my palm, rubbed my hands together. My mother wore a particular fragrance. I searched for it and as I pulled the bottle of Angel from the box and sprayed it, I suddenly felt like she entered the room. I looked over my shoulder to be sure she wasn’t there. I had to swallow hard to fight tears.
I thought of Mom’s bathrobe… pajamas… clothes. She hadn’t been the most mobile person toward the end of her life. I hoped Vernon wouldn’t bring me clothes.
Born in 1938, Mom was lived through The Great Depression. She wasn’t anything like people on the TV show Hoarders , but things had piled up. Her sewing, favorite magazines, newspapers, and the remote control lived on the table near her recliner where she spent the majority of her time. Clearing the space helped Vernon move on. The burden became mine. I had asked for it after all. My sister kept her chair.
Some people might dump the lotions into the trash, but I couldn’t. They smelled like her. To this day, her perfume is still tucked in one of my drawers. I’m wearing it as I write this.
I tried not to linger too long over each box, but touched each item as I asked myself, “Keep?”
Things I let go of went to the Thrift Shop. I placed most of the boxes on the loading dock myself.
A high school friend wrote a line of poetry I still remember. It went something like this: “Money is bad but things are worse. U-Hauls don’t come on the back of a hearse.”
We are born naked. When we die, we take nothing.
Dishes arrived. Boxes of them. The china cupboard. Tablecloths. Mom had exquisite taste: white plates, cups, saucers, pitchers, cream and sugar sets from Germany, and the velvet-lined boxed set of silverware. I thought of how she set the table for holidays: Easter, Christmas… Mother’s Day…
One afternoon, as I carried a small box of dishes inside, my cat darted out and I lost my grip. The box slipped and smacked against my knee. I managed to pin it to the door frame, but it slid to the floor and plunked upside-down. I heard a crack.
Nothing broke, right? Mom would be mad if she knew I had been so careless with her china.
I cringed. Only one plate had broken— perfectly in half, if there is such a thing — but I felt livid all the way to my toes. My ankles hardly supported me.
How had I been so klutzy? I felt angry at the cat for startling me. Mad at my mom for dying. I picked up both pieces of the plate, set them on the counter, and slid them back together. I breathed easier as the crack disappeared. I pretended it hadn't broken.
But it had.
Even though it was just a stupid plate, I was mad at it for breaking! I know. Irrational.
An incomplete set of dishes had become the worst possible thing in the world. Feeling like a child who didn’t want to get caught after breaking something, I rushed to my laptop and discovered Replacements.com. To my relief, I found another plate exactly like the one I broke. I clicked on the picture. Placed it in my shopping cart. Paid for it. Closed the laptop...
And that’s when I finally allowed myself to cry.
Actually, I sobbed. I experienced all five stages of grief all at once:
Yes. I bought another plate, but I knew it wouldn't replace Mom.
Each day since she died, I work hard at acceptance. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Especially on Mother’s Day! I can’t look at those dishes right now... I miss her too much to eat off of them.
Perhaps by tonight— when my step-dad and his girlfriend come for Sunday dinner— I can set the table with those dishes. Use one of Mom’s fancy tablecloths. It's better than everything remaining in the china cupboard, right? Otherwise, what's the point of having all that "stuff?"