I wobbled into May 2nd kind of like this. I opened my eyes to a text message from my travelling husband telling me how much he missed and loved my mother. I sent some happy birthday emojis to a dear friend. I made a note to call my father later and wish him a happy birthday. And then I went in to wake up my sleeping son and then I stood there and watched him for a few minutes as he stretched into the day.
God a lot changes in ten years.
On the morning before the day that marks ten years since I last held my mother’s hand, I did what she most would have wanted me to do: get a pedicure. Manicures and pedicures and the general maintenance of womanhood were of the utmost importance to her. Even as she herself was actively dying and too weak to drive, she insisted that someone take her to get her nails done before flying up to see her doctor. If she was going to go anywhere including death itself, it would be on her terms and with flawless polish color that had some sort of epic name like, Mauve Over. So, I showed her the ultimate respect by taking care of my toes, carefully selecting a polish color that was bright enough to override the natural cool and gray tones of this last day in April, and of this general season of life. My bright purple “A Grape Fit” selection, was indeed just that.
May and Mother’s Day and almost spring and being a mother and celebrating a mother without my mother and my father’s birthday and the anniversary of mother’s death and all of it, just all of it collides right around this time every year. In fact, for ten years I have really internalized just how much, how important, and in fact intentional it is, that all of it always overlaps with each other. Life is rarely cleanly all good or bad. It is complex, much like the people who make it up. It’s a muddy blend of beginnings and endings, of winter’s last gasp and spring’s first breath. It’s actually all quite painfully perfect.
This past weekend was no exception. There was a difficult conversation and a beautiful conversation where I learned someone I loved was going to have a baby. There was a 40th birthday celebration where we talked about lots of silly things, but also about aging parents and cancer and things that other forty-year old women talk about I suspect. It was good and bad and warm but also cold and so it was exactly as it should be at this time of year.
The other day I was watching TV as the woman on PBS carefully explained how the earth tilts toward and away from the sun through the year, thus creating the warmer and cooler periods we know as the seasons. But those places right in the middle, they mostly feel warm. To live along the equator means you feel the sun on your face all year long. But it also means that you experience exactly twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness every day. Life is entirely split in two. And so here I stand, at the equator of life, and also grief I suppose.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this middle period of my life and specifically this experience of middling without her. The strangest part of the middle is your vantage point. The way you feel like a seventeen-year-old inside but are as close to actually being that teenager as you are to retirement. You begin to truly embody your own parents in a way that feels equal parts parody and safe. We’re peers, equals now I suppose. Except I still don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet or put on eye makeup and she doesn’t get to stop by and show me.
I had a lot of ideas about what I might do this week to remember her, to do something symbolic enough that would enable me to let go and move on with the business of life and spring as one must and should do. Somehow, I’ve ended up reading old sympathy cards which is not how I expected I’d spend my time. I saved them all and I have to tell you, the words that every single one of you wrote to me after she died, the stories and memories you shared still warm my heart ten years later. The old notes contain wonderful memories of her at her best, of her glamour shots and formal ness, of her warmth and her smile. She was class and she was sass, with her Coach purse and a hint of Poeme. She was both floral and functional, and if you went and dreamed up everything you thought a mother would be, she was it. I won the lottery and I know it. Here in the middle of life that is both equal parts sunlight and darkness, finding comfort and sweetness in decade old sympathy cards seems oddly apropos.
Lately when I think about being someone’s mother and being someone’s daughter, the same image pops into my head again and again. It is a ball of yarn and a single strand, the way we roll away from each other and stretch out. The way that feels when you are the one letting go of yourself, and the way it feels when you are the piece of yarn stretching your way out into the world. The way all of it is round and never ending, this process of unfurling and then again rolling back up into each other. Mothering is exactly an entire life dedicated to letting go of a piece of yourself. To letting that piece of yourself travel out in the world until someone or something snaps them back and you remember that no matter how far time and space stretches you, you’re actually still connected to each other. Here in the middle, no matter how much time passes and how much equal parts good and bad fill up these years, she doesn’t feel that far away after all. I am still tethered to her.
And so, I stand at the equator of life and grief. In May’s long awaited sunshine, I dust myself off from the cemetery to drive to pick up at the preschool, humbled by the thin line that separates the highs and lows of this season.