the lost and the found

St. Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony of Padua

 

Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please look all around.
Something is missing that needs to be found.

Those are the words my mother would recite every time something was lost in our household. Except she’d replace the “something” with the name of the misplaced item: my homework, a favorite pair of shoes, or most often, the car keys. She’d finish off the request with a triumphant “Thank you, Saint Anthony,” always confident in her faithful patron saint of lost things.

Saint Anthony usually pulled through for her, too. With the exception of her engagement ring – and I’m sure he did his best with that one – I can’t remember a single time the requested item wasn’t found. And believe me when I tell you, we kept the poor guy busy.

Maybe it’s because my mom was such a spiritually keen woman. She was on a first-name basis with many saints and angels. Or maybe she just had that mother’s instinct, the sixth sense of knowing where something was without ever having seen it.

“That’s what mothers are for!” she would have sung at me upon finding something I’d lost. I’d just shake my head in disbelief, dumbfounded by her mom-magic.

The trouble is that not all lost things are meant to be found. And the thing I’ve lost now is my mother. Despite my prayers, all the patron saints and angels in heaven cannot help me.

When I was younger, mom once asked that if something was ever to happen to her, would I want her to come back as a shooting star or a rainbow? Perhaps even a budding rose? A question to which I’m pretty sure I responded that coming back from the dead in any form was going to scare the shit out of me, and she should probably just rest in peace.

So I guess you’d call it ironic that just four months after her death, I find myself constantly concentrating on the night sky, hoping to spot even the faintest star taking a dive.

Thus far, I haven’t seen one. Some nights I can’t see any stars at all.

But there are other times when I sense her presence without the help of stars and rainbows and fresh blooms. Like when I walk into a cafe that’s playing Paul Simon’s Graceland on repeat. Or when I find an old photo of her that’s fallen down the side of the fridge. Or even last night, when I grabbed a novel from my bedside table, hoping to finish it off before falling asleep, and in the final pages, it quotes the prayer to Saint Anthony.

And in those moments, I’m flooded with memories of her. Memories I’d completely forgotten. Memories worth more than shoes and homework and engagement rings and everything she and I have ever lost combined.

I have to believe it’s because of her. That somewhere not-so-far away, my mom is still calling on her old friend to find the things I’ve lost.

So thank you, Saint Anthony, for bringing her back to me.

 

 

revelations in grief

“You just don’t ever get over it.”

I guess that’s something I needed to hear.

Because each day the sun rises and pulls me gently from a dream, leaving your laughter echoing in my ears, only to rediscover that you’re gone, I know I’m not over it. And each day I creep along the Don Holt Bridge in rush-hour traffic, looking out my window at the diamonds blinking on the water below, and pick up my phone to call you and tell you about my day, I know I’m not over it. And as my mind races while I try to get some sleep, and when I forget to put sugar in my homemade oatmeal, and when I want so desperately to write about anything else, but the blank pages just stare back wanting only to hold more memories of you, I know I’m not over it.

No more than I was the day I let you go.

So when I heard those words – “You just don’t ever get over it” – my heart let out a heavy sigh. A burden I didn’t even know I carried, lifted from my shoulders.

For the rest of my life, my eyes may well with tears when I see a proud mother embracing her child. My throat may tighten like I swallowed a tennis ball every time I hear the singing of a choir. And our final moments together may always be the last thing I think of before I fall asleep.

And that’s okay. Because some things you don’t ever get over.

And now that I know, I can stop trying, stop hoping, stop waiting. For peace and normalcy and comfort that will simply never come.

You’re gone.

I’m not over it.

And I never will be.

My sweet mom, May 2013.
My sweet mom, May 2013.

prayer of the mourning child

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

But still I lie, eyes wide awake,

And feel my hands begin to shake.

For in dreams that wait to strike my mind,

Your heart beats on; we still have time.

I feel your laughter, hear your song.

I hold your hand and hum along.

I have no troubles; all is fair,

And I don’t dread what’s after prayers.

For momma’s love still holds me tight,

And keeps me safe till morning light.

But dreams are wishes of the soul;

They cannot make the broken whole.

And so my mind runs unaware,

Of lips that whisper children’s prayers.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord your soul to keep.

If I shall die before I wake,

Please wait for me at heaven’s gate.”

this is the story of how we begin to remember

You probably didn’t know, when you forced me out of you, when you squeezed and contracted and pushed…You probably didn’t know that screaming ball of hot pink flesh, who grew in your womb for nine months and two insufferable weeks…You probably didn’t know that little hungry, demanding child would grow into a woman who wanted to be nothing more than a reflection of your energy, who longed to sway beneath the shadows of you and breathe you in.

You probably didn’t know, when I was two and hooked up to tubes and monitors in a hospital emergency room…When one of my organs wasn’t formed quite perfectly and the surgeons offered no promises what the next moment would bring…And you held my tiny, soft hands and stood by my bed and whispered gentle lullabies in my ear…You probably didn’t know that I would return the favor 25 and a half years later…And stand guard alongside your hospital bed…And sing you songs and tell you jokes and pray, and pray that you would stay a little while longer.

You probably didn’t know, when you brushed my hair and pulled it into a taught, perfectly smooth ponytail, when you pinned a giant bow to the very top – one with glitter or buttons or polka dots…When you tied my shoelaces and smoothed my ruffled skirt hems and wiped the dirt off my elbows and told me I was brilliant and beautiful and could be whatever I wanted to be…You probably didn’t know that I believed every single word…And never let doubt or fear settle anywhere near my dreams.

You probably didn’t know, when you tucked me in at night, and we read A Wrinkle in Time or Mr. Popper’s Penguins…When we said prayers out loud in that intimate space, when you kissed my forehead and pushed play on the cassette tape so I could fall asleep…You probably didn’t know how hard it was not to follow at your heels when you turned to go. How I longed for you to come back to me before you even left the room.

You probably didn’t know, when you planned my elaborate birthday parties – with goodie bags and piñatas and birthday cakes thick with sweet cream frosting…When I inhaled until my lungs felt as light as the balloons tied to the back of my chair and blew forcefully at the candles, trying to extinguish those melting time bombs before the wax collided with the cake below…You probably didn’t know every wish I made was for us to be healthy and happy and together forever…Every flame held the promise of a long life…Or so I believed as watched their reflection flicker in your endless brown eyes.

And I guess I didn’t know, when I talked to you 10 days before Christmas, and heard your hoarse voice on the other end of the phone telling me it sounded worse than it really was…And I told you to rest and carried on buying coffee mugs and goat’s milk soap and chocolate covered cashews for your stocking…I guess I didn’t know that would be my last, “I love you.” And there was so much more to say.

And I guess I didn’t know, when we sang the hymns and hugged and wept, when we called it a celebration even though we all knew it was a funeral…When we sat on the rows marked “reserved,” the rows that no one ever wants to be waiting for them…I guess I didn’t know how broken my heart would be.

And how much we all need our mothers. And how I would still need you.

angel painting
One of my mom’s angel paintings.

the difference between hating and healing

You’d never believe it, but the thing I had confused my entire life, the thing that I couldn’t get straight – left to right, up and down – the thing I was so wrong about I would’ve sworn to death I was right, that thing was the difference between hating myself and healing myself.

And I know what you’re thinking. Those two things are nothing alike. Even a complete twat would know the difference between hating and healing. But I’m here to tell you this complete twat was damn wrong about it. For a long time, too.

Every time I picked up a cupcake or a French fry or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Fro Yo, I thought of it as a treat to myself. A little splurge just for me. Because I was having a tough week or I had gotten a promotion. Because I deserved it.

And every time I laced up my running shoes and dragged my tired butt to the gym and moved myself round and round on the elliptical like a hamster on a wheel, well that was my punishment. Punishment for looking like a linebacker instead of a lady, punishment for not fitting into a single pair of pants, punishment for not going to punishment the day before.

And just like that, the lines were not just blurred, they were completely wrong. And I was lost in a world where I healed myself with hatred and hated myself as I healed.

I probably would have gone until I was a 45-year old obese, depressed, and real-damn-confused divorcee before I figured it out. But instead, my mom died. Right before Christmas.

And I swam around in a fuzzy world of grief and denial and numbness for a few weeks. Then one Sunday evening, after a zombie-like day spent walking around my apartment aimlessly holding onto a can of Pledge and an unused dust rag, I decided I should go to the gym.

But it wasn’t like every other time I went to the gym. Because I wasn’t being punished. In fact, just the opposite, I was going to try and heal.

So I went and pounded my feet on a treadmill for 45 minutes until my cheeks were red and I’d sweated so much my nipples were hard from the dampness of my shirt. But the whole time I was there I repeated five words in my head: “THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. HEAL.”

And the next day I went back. And I didn’t look at how many calories I burned. And I didn’t think about how I wanted to look in a bikini. And for once, for once in my entire life, I wasn’t there to change me. I was there to heal me.

It didn’t take long for the food revelation to follow suit. I think I was in the shower when I realized how ass-backwards I’d been my whole life in the way I thought about eating and exercise.

I finally figured out that healing yourself is about putting good things in your body. And taking care of yourself. And spending the time to do the things your body needs.

Every day, I make decisions focused on healing – first, from the loss of my mother, but also from the years and years of hate I inflicted on my body.

I don’t obsess about food or constantly day-dream about my next meal. I don’t dread going to the gym. And I don’t think about how I want to change myself.

Healing is based in love. And I’m finally healing myself. And I’m finally loving myself. And there’s this peace in my world that I can confidently say has never existed before. And I’ll tell you what, it’s quite beautiful.

the day before the longest night of the year

Some days grief swirls around me in violent bursts, whipping and stinging my skin in a fury of longing and dread. Some days I feel her warm hum hovering around my ears, singing sweetly that she has never left my side.

But part of her did leave. Silently and swiftly, my mother crept away from us. My sister and I by her side, clinging to each arm. Blevin softly singing hymns while the EKG counted down the time we had left. I pressed my face into her breast, as her bloated hand, shiny and rigid, rested stiffly, numbly on my arm.

I cupped her forehead with my hand and patted her soft, fine hair. The same hair as mine. The hair I always used to complain about. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, I strained to breathe in her gentle scent and bring her back to me, even if only for a moment. And just as a sweet mix of Suave shampoo and Design perfume filled my lungs, she was gone.

When I was younger, I was scared of having children. My mom and I had such a special connection, I believed it impossible to have the same relationship with a little girl of my own. That’s how much I loved her. In an unmatchable way. In a way that could not exist twice in the same universe.

I loved her like an anomaly. And she loved me like I was still a part of her womb.

She had the perfect advice for every situation, every conflict, every worry. And when she wasn’t sure the right thing to say, she’d talk to my angels or do a tarot card reading or look up how Gemini’s are being affected by the moon cycle until she had a response she deemed acceptable, until she felt like she had helped.

She would advise me to write out my troubles, to jot down my dreams. When stressed, she told me to imagine myself as a hollow reed, letting calming air flow through my body.

She told me I was beautiful. She told me I was brilliant. She told me I was a writer. And whenever I was struggling to make a decision – no matter how big or small – she told me to do what my body told me to.

So as I stood paralyzed in that critical care unit, deprived of sleep and drained of tears and watching her struggle for every shallow breath, I whispered back to her what I thought she needed to hear:

My sweet momma, if you are tired of fighting, if you are weak and weary and worn, if you can hear the angels calling you home, don’t you worry about your little girls. Listen to me when I tell you, it’s time to heed your own advice. And do what your body tells you to.

"Harvest Queen," a painting of my mother's
“Harvest Queen,” a painting of my mother’s