Honoring Mom

“Do you want to take a photo to honor your mother?”

That’s the question my thoughtful, compassionate photographer asked me on my wedding day.

The dress was on. Hair and makeup, done. Chandelier earrings dangling by my cheeks.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything at all.

Todd had decided to take a portrait holding his mother’s cowboy hat across his chest. Perhaps I wanted to do something like that?

“Maybe in front of one of her paintings?” the photographer offered.

I stared at my hands. I tried to focus.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t put plenty of thought into how to honor my mom at my wedding. I’d considered empty chairs and photographs. Special songs and moments of silence.

None of it felt right. None of it felt like her. Or me. So, I’d let it go.

“That’s okay,” I replied. “I don’t think I need to do that.”

Now I look back at the pictures from that day, and I know I was right. In shot after shot after shot, my face shows nothing except unbridled joy.

And that’s how I honor her.

By being happy. By finding the best partner for me. By living life fully. And always, always, always overflowing with love.

 

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Fresh Ink for Old Wounds

“My mother is dead.”

I don’t say it to make people uncomfortable. Or to get attention or pity. I say it because it’s true.

My mother is dead. And she has been for three and half years.

When people who could be my mother’s age find out my mom is dead, the first question they ask is how it happened.

“Pneumonia,” I’ll explain.

They look incredulous. “People still die from pneumonia?” (Even if they don’t say it, I can tell that’s what they’re thinking.)

I’ll nod in response. Yes, yes they do.

The next thing they want to know is how old she was when she died.

“56,” I’ll say. “About to turn 57.”

They wrestle those facts together and arrive at the same inevitable conclusion: It could have been them.

I got my first tattoo right after I graduated from high school. A peach on my right hip.

I was class of 2004’s valedictorian and president. The peach made me feel less bookworm, more badass.

I planned on keeping the new ink hidden from my parents, but I never could keep a secret from my mom. I walked straight into her bedroom as soon as I returned from Psycho Tattoo and whispered, “Can I tell you a secret?”

Her eyes lit up. She nodded.

I pulled my blue jean skirt down just enough to reveal the peach.

A smile spread across her face. “Can I get one too?” she fired back in equally hushed tones.

We were conspirators. Always.

Sometimes I post about how much I miss my mom on Facebook. Usually around Christmas or Mother’s Day. Sometimes around her birthday.

People often offer words of comfort in response: “She’s with you every day.” “She’s there, just not physically!” “She’s always in your heart.” “She lives on in you.”

When I got a quote to have my hair and make-up done for my wedding in November, there was a $600 minimum charge for an on-site stylist. The salon owner suggested I have my mother’s hair and make-up done to help reach the threshold.

And that’s how I know that the supportive people on Facebook are wrong.

My mother is not with me every day. And she won’t be there on my wedding day.

The photographer won’t take a photo of us as she zips up the back of my dress. She won’t laugh nervously as she meets my fiancé’s family for the first time. And she certainly won’t help me reach the minimum balance on my hair and make-up bill.

“She’s with you” is a nice thing to say, a nice way to cope. But I had my mother with me for 27 years, and I can tell the difference.

When people see my tattoos, they sometimes tell me, “I love tattoos on other people, but I don’t think I could ever get one.”

“Why not?” I’ll ask.

They explain, “I don’t think I could pick something that I’d be okay with forever.”

I’ll nod and pretend I understand, but really, I know nothing lasts forever.

My mother died five days before Christmas. She was in a coma before my sister and I ever arrived at the hospital in Tennessee.

I used to come up with positive spins on the grief, like “We had 27 years together, and all of them were great” or “It’s better she went quickly instead of watching her suffer.”

The truth is 27 years were not enough. The truth is I’m jealous of everyone who gets to say goodbye before losing someone they love.

The truth is if I had the choice between more time with my mom and closure at the end, I don’t know which I would choose.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter anyway. No one gets that choice.

When I was young, my mother once asked me if something were to happen to her, would I want her to come back as a shooting star or a budding rose.

I didn’t answer. I thought it was a stupid question.

My most recent tattoo is on my left forearm. It’s the largest and boldest and most colorful of them all. And it’s the only one I see every day—a pair of budding turquoise roses.

It reminds me of her, but not because of the question she asked when I was young. It reminds me how she let me be me. How she taught me to trust myself. How she helped me bloom.

And despite what all my wonderful Facebook friends may say, I realize my mom won’t be sitting behind me on the first row when I say forever to the man of my dreams this November.

But I find peace in knowing I’ll be wearing her love on my arm. On that day and always.

To the ones who said, “It gets better”

Sympathy Card Curly Girl Designs

When I lost her–my mother, my gypsy, my patron saint of love and kindness–the echoes first began.

“It gets better. Just wait. It’ll get better.”

I hated every person who offered me those words. For their guilty eyes and soft voices. For their pity. For filling my head with false promises of tranquility, impossible visions of peace.

How could it possibly get better?

Every day that passes I’m 24 hours more removed from the last time she held me in her arms. The last time she stroked my hair. The last time she spoke three infinitely more soothing words.

“I love you.”

Every day that passes my vision of her fades just slightly more. Her image fuzzes around the edges. Pixelates. Unnoticed from one day to the next. But combined, she’s becoming a blur.

I claw through my memories trying to find one of her laugh. One of her hum. One of her silly smiles. I feel victorious when a forgotten detail surfaces—in photograph or video or voicemail or dream.

But I know I have no ownership over those stolen moments. I know I’ll lose those details too.

Give it another day.

With each changing season, the things she’s given me age. Shirts, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, purses and more. I won’t leave the house without one of those priceless gifts. At least one thing. Maybe the Tiffany earrings she and my sister went in on together for my college graduation. Or the Tom’s sunglasses she gave me our last Christmas together.

Our last Christmas.

But those objects, those items, those physical incarnations of her love and generosity—they are not immune to the mighty arms of time either. Jewelry is lost. Shoes wear down. Sunglasses break. Every day I have less of her to weave into my wardrobe. To wear her love like a blanket on my skin.

How could it possibly get better?

My dreams—the ones where she’s still alive—they’re treasures. I experience her just as she was. I wake up surrounded in the warmth of her. And long to drift back to the place where she lives in my subconscious.

But every day that passes, I have them less and less.

It can’t ever get better.

Now as I wind through my second full year without her, I know the words I’ve hated for so long are true.

It’s getting better.

I wouldn’t call it peace, but time has given me something I didn’t know it could. As I try to balance holding on and letting go and moving forward while desperately clinging to the past, as I fight to forget nothing and even as I continuously fail, time still offers a comfort.

A new echo caressing my ears. Of “This is okay.” Of “This is what is.”

Of acceptance.

She’s not here. I’ll never not miss her. I’ll never not wish I had more time. I’ll never not want even one more day by her side. I’ll never stop trying to remember more pieces of her. I’ll never stop mourning them as they fade too far away into the darkness of my fragile, fallible, feeble human mind.

But still—even still—it’s better.

And I’m grateful to everyone who told me so.

And even more grateful that they were right.  

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Image Source: CurlyGirlDesign.com, maker of the best greeting cards in the whole beautiful world.

christmas confessions (it won’t be the same this year…)

As a general rule, I start listening to Christmas music each year around September 15th. That’s exactly 100 days before December 25th, and in my opinion, it’s totally fair game.

In all the places I’ve lived and worked, the people around me have taken note: this chick loves her some Christmastime. I deck the halls with dedication and purpose, send holiday greetings the good ol’ fashioned way, and am notorious for my extensive Christmas music expertise. You could call me the sommelier of sleigh-worthy songs.

I’m the one to whom my friends confess when they sneak a listen to few carols before Thanksgiving. I’m who they call when they’re blaring “Run Rudolph Run” when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.

Yes, I’m that girl.

And yet, this year, somehow I’m not.

It was this time last year—December 16—when I got the phone call. I was told that Mom is not okay. Her pneumonia is worse than we thought. There’s a 50% chance she won’t make it.

And it was five days from now—December 20—that we lost her.

It was two days after that—on the eve of Christmas Eve—when I sat in a black turtle neck dress on the front row of the United Methodist church in Pulaski, Tennessee at her funeral. Surrounded by advent wreaths and Poinsettias and manger scenes.

This year, I kept waiting to get the unmistakable, relentless urge to listen to Christmas music. September 15th rolled around and nothing happened. Halloween passed, and I still wasn’t ready. Then Thanksgiving—the day when the rest of the world starts feeling festive—came and went. And I just felt numb. And empty. And lost.

Even the first of December didn’t offer a magic spark. Instead, I felt nothing.

And I knew then that Christmas had changed for me.

One of my favorite Christmas albums growing up was Vince Gill’s Let There Be Peace on Earth. For reasons I could never explain, my favorite song on the album was titled “It Won’t Be the Same This Year.” Written as a tribute to Vince’s brother who died from a car crash, this melancholy tune showcases how at the core of the holiday season are the relationships and memories we have with the ones we love:

“It’s time to pack our bags and hit the highway.

And head on out for Christmas holiday.

I’ll fall apart when I pull in the driveway.

It’s my first time home since brother passed away.

His favorite time of year was always Christmas.

We’ll reminisce about the days gone by.

Oh, how I wish that he was still here with us.

My memories of him will never die.

Losin’ my big brother hurt so badly.

It’s helped me learn what Christmas really means.

There’s nothing more important than your family.

We’re all the children of the King of Kings.”

Now, approaching the first anniversary of Mom’s death, I understand the words of this song. The pain of this loss. The power of this sadness.

And despite those feelings, I’ve decided to turn on my Merry-mas playlist on my iPod. I listen every chance I get, even though I’m never quite in the mood. I’ve decided to decorate. My first tree at my new house–with many of Mom’s sweet, beautiful Christmas touches scattered throughout. I’ve decided to buy the presents, to splurge on the good wrapping paper with real ribbon, to send the cards, to bake the snickerdoodles, to watch The Grinch, and to embrace the joys of the season.

Because even if Christmas won’t be the same this year, I’ve decided I still can be.

when christmas comes

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(Because some feelings will only be processed in writing)
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I tell myself I’ll be just fine,

When Christmas comes to pass.

I’ll wear a smile above my scarf—

With mulled wine in my glass.

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I’ll play the songs I love the most,

But there’s one I’ll dread to hear.

The one with words I know too well:

“It won’t be the same this year.”

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I’ll wrap the presents up in bows,

String lights around the tree.

I’ll hang the stockings in a row,

Place the nativity.

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But as the day looms closer still,

My thoughts will linger on.

It was 12/16 I got the call,

And in five days, you were gone.

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My toenails, they were sparkly green

At your funeral last year.

I looked down with misplaced shame

At their burst of Christmas cheer.

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Now coldness taps the windows.

Winter looms in sight.

And I’m not sure how I’ll manage

On this year’s Silent Night.

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If you were here beside me—

Avoiding all that’s Mary and bright—

You’d whisper words like magic,

And make everything all right.

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Since you’re gone, I’ll just imagine

Those words that set me free:

“When you celebrate the memories,

You still celebrate with me.”

the artist’s prayer

"Muse of Creativity,"  a painting, poem, and prayer by my mom
“Muse of Creativity,”
a painting, poem, and prayer by my mom

–Muse of Creativity–

Come to this table filled

with brushes, paints and

water, a candle, a purple iris,

and most importantly,

Mother Mary. Come and

assist me in using my talents

to make beauty, to offer love,

to spread joy. Alone I cannot

create. With you, I am

emblazoned on the artistic path.

Never alone. Never afraid.

Always Brave. Thank you

for guiding me.

-KDS