Where are you mama? I just need to know.
It’s mid-October and the leaves on our ornamental pear tree are still green. Not surprising; it’s normally the last tree to hold out, to turn color and lose its leaves. Every year, mom and I would walk through my yard and be delighted by the patterns on the leaves. Like children, we’d pick them off the ground, show each other our prize, finding each one more interesting than the other, with the bizarre yellow, orange and red designs, especially on the Red Oak in the backyard.
Sometimes we’d bring one each into the house, pouncing on my husband Jim, showing him our finds. He humored us. Probably looked like the same leaf from the year before.
Now, I look at the green tree and ask to no one, “Where are you mama?”
This December it will be two years since she passed away in my home.
I wonder if she’s up in “Heaven”— although I really don’t believe in the Heaven of my childhood. When I was a kid, I asked my cousin, who is a Roman Catholic priest, what Heaven was like. He said, “It is whatever you want it to be.”
This didn’t make sense to me as a kid and less so as an adult. I wonder what my mom’s Heaven would be like. I get caught up in the details and wonder when she “got up there” if all three of her husbands met her at the pearly gates. Now how awkward would that be? What if she wanted her Heaven to be with Joe, her second husband, who I believe she loved the most? What of the “Wolf” – who married her right before he left for Okinawa in 1944? What if my dad’s Heaven was spending eternity with her? The thought of that welcome party makes me laugh out loud.
So, I reject the Heaven idea. It doesn’t fit with my very literal mind. I sit down on my mom’s bench in our front yard.
Calling on all my varied spiritual beliefs and a weird combination of religions, I wonder if she’s been reincarnated already and she’s a baby now and if our paths will cross before I die. I find some comfort in that. If I see her, will I know her immediately? If our fingers touch, will I feel a jolt of electricity?
Then, with fear, I wonder if she really is only those ashes that my brother, husband and I scattered last year. We sat on overhang, the ocean waves breaking close to our bare feet. When I opened up the container, the wind blew some of her ashes on my feet. I remember crying and laughing at the same time at how ridiculous it was “scattering” this white powder that used to be my mom, who was so much more than this gritty material, and who was now on my feet.
A life that could be put in a cheap cardboard box. The end?
No, that doesn’t feel right either.
Now I understand why Houdini’s wife Bess obsessed with making contact with her magician husband after he died.
“Just give me some proof that you are out there, damn you!” I bet she yelled.
“You are NOT JUST those ashes on the ocean floor,” I yell, in my head, sitting on my mom’s bench.
For the first seven months after mama died, I felt no connection at all.
When I visit her room, all I can see is her in the hospital bed. No matter how they try, the hospice people cannot ready me for her death. I happen to walk in after she is pronounced dead and her caregiver is “preparing” her, turning her body.
I run out of the room. “Why did they let me see that? I didn’t need to see her like that! I didn’t need to see her like that!” I yell again and again, sobbing in my husband’s arms that day.
After watching countless CSI shows , you’d think I could handle seeing my mom’s very human process of death. Not so, at all. For over a year, I get up and leave when they talk about rigor, or show blood pooling on the TV.
During these seven months, I hope she will come to me in a dream and tell me she’s okay, give me a secret message, or that I will wake up laughing, often like it is when my dad visits me. But she is always sick in my dreams and all I can say, “But I thought you were dead?”
Although my “religion” varies from agnostic to whatever belief will make me feel better, I always knew, without a doubt, that the soul went on. To somewhere. To work on those things we didn’t get right this life.
And that belief, I knew, would get me through my mom’s death.
This seven month emotional banishment, rocks my made up, pieced-together faith, all that I thought was true. It’s devastating to know that maybe the end was the end. Maybe I’ll never see her again. Maybe I’ll never feel her.
It scares the hell out of me and I start thinking about my husband Jim dying. I am so scared how I will survive, now that I have lost my faith. I don’t even know who to pray to, to protect Jim. I’m obsessed with him dying.
Finally, it is mid-June and we take out our boat – we’re towing a party-barge that broke down. We have at least an hour of slow-going at about 10 miles per hour. My brother is with us, which is rare; he faces me as I sit in the back seat. I look at his face, looking so sad, so old, his mouth turned down. But I don’t want to think about him now, his troubles, his pain. The day is beautiful, the sun feels, well, healing I guess.
I look up at the sky and it is bright blue.
One small cloud. Then another. They join, they separate.
The largest one moves slowly into something that looks like a butterfly. It changes again and I feel a little nuts; I’m excited, I stop breathing, I KNOW what this is. I turn my head to the wind, so my brother doesn’t see the tears on my face.
My mama and I, from the earliest of my memories to her last days, would point out horses, sharks, elephants and eagles that the clouds made for us. We’d see a herd of buffalo across the sky. A field of sheep.
For the first time in seven months, I believe that my mom is reaching out to me. I think I might laugh out loud at some of the silly shapes, like she is willing me to pay attention. Like a magician, she is moving the clouds for my benefit, for my entertainment. My god, she has the power to make cloud animals, I think to myself. She must be in Heaven!
For the first time in seven months I feel better.
She is out there.
She’s not the dust on my feet.
I keep this show to myself. I assume my brother is so lost in his own thoughts, he doesn’t see the emotion on my face or that I keep on wiping my nose on the beach towel.
It takes me about a month before I tell my husband and a few friends, when I think I won’t cry when I tell them. I still cry. They don’t say I’m crazy. I think they’re relieved.
Slowly, mama comes to me in my dreams and she’s not sick.
I find a pink envelope underneath the car seat in my Jeep addressed to “Christine Marie.” I’m not sure where the letter is, but her familiar handwriting makes me happy. I run my finger over my name. I wish I saved more of her cards. It’s up on my bulletin board, above my desk at work.
Today, as I sit on her bench, I wish for another sign, another message. I wish for more dreams. There are no clouds in the sky that are speaking to me.
Maybe, I think, when the tree begins to turn. Maybe I’ll feel her. Maybe there will be a leaf with a design like I have never seen before.
Where are you mama? I just need to know.