The picture is of my mom. It’s a little blurry, but it is still one of my favorite shots of her. It was taken just a few months before she died. About five years ago now.
This morning I was trolling through my old pictures, looking for inspiration. Some days are like that. I just don’t have it. And so I look around for something, anything that will trigger an emotion I can write to. A happy point. A place of pain. As long as the emotion is real, it will do.
I don’t tell stories well. Stories start in one place and in a more or less straight line get to an ending point. I don’t do straight lines. My mind meanders. It is part of the reason I like poetry. It forces me to have a discipline that does not come naturally.
My father on the other hand, was a born raconteur. I never noticed it so much because he was, after all, my dad. It’s what he did. But my friends, for forty years, always told me how they remember his ability to tell a story. And looking back, they were right.
My mom was not a story teller. She was a feeling sharer. A person tuned into the vibe of a room or the emotions in a relationship. She had a knack for saying the right thing, which came less from her wordsmith abilities (which were considerable) that her ability to feel what others felt.
Me, I am stuck in a place that is neither one nor the other. I suppose that is how it is supposed to be. I actually can tell stories, and I can write them, but it is not a natural thing. It doesn’t flow from me easily. It’s a discipline. I have to work at it. Prepare. Think. Do the work. And only then, the story. It’s a skill, not who I am.
Feelings, and the words to describe feelings come hard. I could go all clinical on you after five years of therapy, with occasional checkups and tweaks and give you the whole gory story of why, but it serves no purpose. I am naturally a feelings person more than a facts person, but that part of me became damaged many years ago. I feel, but it takes time for me to turn those feelings into words. So my mom’s nature, with some damage.
So this morning, I was perusing old pictures and found the one up top, and I found this one too:
That is my parent’s living room. They lived in that house from 1965 until just after my mom’s death five years ago. These two pictures wrenched out emotions this morning. Grief flowed as I sat in my studio. I would love to have my mom to talk to in this time of quarantine, coronavirus and fear that we are living in right now. Not so much for her wisdom, as her ability to say the right thing and calm me down.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not crazed. Introvert that I am, the whole solitude thing has been pretty easy. I miss the parts of my work that I have lost, partially because of my own health and partially because people don’t have the money to hire me right now. But there is enough. Plenty in fact, were you to look in our cupboard of overflowing foodstuffs.
And I am blessed with a wife whose presence each day reminds me how right I was to take the leap into a second marriage (almost) three years ago. She is a delight, even after five or six weeks of quarantine.
But I have discovered that I am more social than I realized. I have come to learn how I thrive in face to face conversation. I have learned that I am more of a doer than I realized and staying at home, even with zoom meetings and electronic media and on-line church, doesn’t FEEL like doing. I want to be out there. In it. Face to face. Holding people’s hands when they are afraid. Hugging them. Re-assuring them. I’ve come to see that that is what I have become, like my mother (though not as good at it as she was), a comforter. And i am mourning the opportunity to be and do what I do best, what makes me feel most whole.
And not being able to do that. I would love the chance to have her in my life right now. She’d understand so well. Not in a “isn’t that nice?” way but in an experiential way.
This picture is a small memorial my son made for my mom the day before her funeral. We were all staying with my sister, who has a house above the James River, and he and I had walked down to the river. He picked up some flotsam and jetsam, a few rocks and sticks of driftwood, and put this together on a large stone at the river’s edge.
I knew the memorial would wash away. He likely did too. And months later, when I visited my sister again, it was indeed, gone, washed away by high tides and storms. But in its way it is still with me. Not just in the picture, but in my memory.
My mom encouraged me, not in the way we think of. I don’t think she ever cared what I did for a living, just as long as I had enough. I don’t think she cared where I lived, or how much I made or what impact I was making in what I did – all things that my father was constantly talking about.
She encouraged me in my feelings, and in my constant need to get them out. She encouraged me in my faith, not so much the religion part, as the spirituality part. The soul part. Those things were and still are very much at my core, and not encouraged or even noticed by society, she knew had to be healthy for me to be healthy. She knew it decades before I figured it out about myself.
I miss her comfort. I miss conversations with her, which often took me to unexpected places. It’s not a constant ache, but when it comes back it is in a wash, like this morning. And it is with gratitude. I was fortunate to have her in my life until I was almost sixty. That’s a blessing.
And a few tears of mourning are a small price to pay for that blessing.
Thanks for letting me meander.