Dear Mom, it’s Christmas and I miss you. I’ve missed you every day since you died; how can it have been nine months? I miss you as I visit parks, so many places you and I journeyed together – later you using sticks, walker and wheelchair. I miss you when I cook certain foods, listen to music, and make tea in the morning. Some times, in the middle of a virtual meeting, the sight of my dining room wallpaper delivers me back to the days and nights when you too occupied this same room, leaving me stunned as my mind wanders away from the subject at hand. (Two weeks ago I suddenly cried while teaching a class; it’s okay – they understood.) During late afternoon and weekend strolls in our neighborhood, the waft of that certain laundry detergent, one that once lingered on your clothes and inside your previous home, sets me off. Yes, everything reminds me of you. I know you were ready to die; we were privileged to have you in our lives so long with decades of beautiful times shared together. Yet, I miss you as we humans do when we lose the special souls in our lives, even when how we miss changes each day, yes, like a rollercoaster. (Remember how you used to tell us about taking the Big Dipper rollercoaster at Jantzen Beach when you were in high school?) Even though you are always in my heart pocket.
As I listened to Christmas music today, it was only then that I remembered how last year, after your final Christmas, I added your CDs to our collection. And so, it was while listening to the Messiah today when I recognized I had inserted a CD from your complete version, rather than my abbreviated but known-by-heart collection. Yet, it was when I played your Andrea Bocelli CD that I fully lost it; you adored him more than any other vocalist other than maybe James Taylor. (Remember when last Christmas I pushed your wheelchair up to the TV set so you could see him during his specially aired concert? Then we simply kept watching his appearances on YouTube, no matter old or new.)
Today I rode my bike. I took my usual meandering loop that I do those days when there is no place I really need to get to. (It starts out like it used to, you know, in those pre and early-pandemic days when I’d stop by your house.) Now, instead of turning left I turn right and coast down to West Linn’s River Road. Yet, these days when I pass Mole End Cottage, I remember how we read Wind in The Willows together twice during your last years. And how we laughed. I only stopped thinking about that when my bike and I got to River Road where the view opens up to our favorite Willamette River stretch. (You know the one years ago we would walk along, in the last year, drive along slowly.) Of course once I arrive at the Cedaroak Boat Launch I stare across at the winterscape of Cedar Island, today noticing the logs and debris building up at the dock. A few miles later I bop around to Willamette Park, hover near the boat launch, before riding on to view the now rushing Tualatin River at Field’s Park. Yes, every scene reminds me of you. It’s a treasure, with each memory entwining into a beautiful patchwork. Thank you for leaving me with this.
And then, there is Christmas. On my first Christmas you joyously proclaimed in your annual holiday card, that I was the Littlest Angel of your then three, an only daughter. You sewed me a matching Christmas stocking that still hangs at my hearth. Every Christmas you made magic for us kids, leaving us with memories of Christmas cookies and tree decorating and Christmas church services. And music. The same traditions we continue today. For all of our kids’ childhoods, and through the end of your lives, you and Pops would join us for dinner on Christmas Eve, returning in the morning to open gifts and eat breakfast. (Yes, Dad was always the first to eat.) How many years did we do that? As little as two years ago you spent the night with us on Christmas Eve. What a treat. Last year was quieter, simpler. (I took pictures of lights in the neighborhood so you too could see them.)
Yes, I carry you like I knew I would, in my heart pocket. We all have these pockets, though we might carry those we loved differently. While both of my parents have died during the past 7 years, so too have several close friends, leaving behind partners and children. As I close out 2021, our mom’s last earthly year, I too am slowly finishing the public airing of my grief in this loss. When Dad died I poured my grief into my memoir, my first book: stories about him and us, holding it privately until ready to share. As I wrote, he was there with me, helping me craft the stories. When I finally completed the book, at first I felt that he was no longer with me. With Mom, I have instead blogged, sharing my grief openly to whomever it may touch. My personal grief will continue, as grief does – morphing and circling back and forward, remembrances and anniversaries – yet, I imagine my writing to become more private as I unpack it. Though, it is hard to predict what I might write some spring morning when I see the first trillium unfold in Mary Young Park, or watch the delightful showering of rhody petals drop down near the McLean House. Both our parents received “bonus” years, (yes, Dad…certainly you would call it that), while so many others finish this earthly life journey well before anyone might have anticipated.
Our individual losses strike each of our hearts differently, making us into who we are today. Grief is something so raw, so human; no matter how we feel or express it. It is what we share whether in private or together, in our own way, that unites us all. Merry Christmas Mom and Dad. I love you.