I am not certain if I noticed the near perfection of the cloudless turquoise sky before
or after the towers fell on September 11th. I can't recall whether or not I awakened that morning and thought it was a beautiful day. I did question, after turning on the news, how something so horrific could happen on such a glorious morning.
It is much the same feeling I have about the day that my mother died last April 17th. My
friend Ellen and I were supposed to meet that morning -- a planned visit to my mother. But Ellen canceled at the last minute. I was preparing to visit my mother alone, and oddly eager to get there. Just as I was pulling a shirt over my head, the phone rang with the call from the care giver telling me that my mother's heart had stopped. Too shaky to drive, my oldest son drove me uptown. I chided him for driving too fast -- saying that at this point there was no urgency. And I remember the beauty of the day juxtaposed to the loss. I can't remember whether or not I woke up thinking what a gorgeous day it was: sunny, blue-skied, cloudless, and a perfect temperature. All I know now is that both days in that September and last April were filled with different kinds of loss, and the turquoise skies remain in my mind.
It is odd to think back both one year and nine years later and know that a specific day's weather is so embedded in my memory.
I can tell you that one year ago after my mother died, the weather changed abruptly: April fooled us and became wintry cold, windy, and rain poured down in buckets. I do not recall the weather after September 11th. I am certain that others remember it well.
About two weeks ago, I bought a scented wooden-wicked candle. It is similar to the candle I bought the day my mother died and burned until the wick was gone and the glass holder held just a trace of wax. But last year, I bought another candle and then another, and subsequently burned a candle every day for a month. I have not yet decided if I will do the same this year, or simply let this one candle burn until it is finished. I have a cold, and so I cannot smell its scent, but my daughter and her fiance who were here this weekend tell me that the aroma is sweet.
On Saturday morning, the one year anniversary of my mother's death, at roughly 11 a.m. which was the hour she died, I sat still at my desk, looking at nothing, simply remembering a lifetime condensed. I felt disembodied, light-headed, and missed my mother in those moments more than I have missed her in the last year. It was a pain that ran so deep I couldn't even try to explain it to anyone. I needed to keep it wrapped up tight, afraid of what might happen if I let go and allowed the tears. In fact, it was an exercise in that "self-control" that my mother preached to me from the time I was a child to an adult. Never be self-indulgent, she told me over and over again -- words that brought me through many events in my life when I felt I could have easily crumbled and yet I remained whole.
My daughter, Ellie, has been with me on two most significant events in my life when loss hit me hard. The first one was a dreary November day in 2004 when my husband and I were separated, and I took two of our five dogs to be put down. The vet spread several worn floral quilts on the floor of the stainless steel examination room, and I sat on them, cradling the dogs on my lap as he administered an injection that put them to sleep. Once they were breathing peacefully, he gave the injection that would keep them sleeping "forever." I remember his tender words about "sleeping forever." I had spent the last year carrying Lucy and Fred to their "spots" outside where they relieved themselves, and cleaning and bathing them after those all-too-frequent times when I miscalculated their needs and their incontinence left them sitting, although obliviously, in a mess. They were blind, deaf, and well, really, just wasting away. But still...they nuzzled my legs when I walked by -- something the vet chalked up to instinct -- that part was hard for me to capitulate when it came to quality of life issues for them. Once they were gone in my arms, I cried -- sobbing so uncontrollably that the vet offered to drive me home. A combination of missing Lucy and Fred and wondering who was I to play God? I declined the vet's offer -- then, too, recalling my mother's advice not to be self-indulgent. But at the end of that day, as my youngest son sat with me in the family room in our old house, my daughter walked in the door. She was in college then, and she and her brother had planned her surprise visit to me.
So, this past weekend, Ellie and her fiance Larry were with me as well. For Sunday lunch, I made the pasta my mother used to make for our Sunday lunches at her country house. My youngest son was there as well, and it was not until Ellie made a toast to "Mommy-Mommy" (the name my children called my mother -- a play on the words "Mommy's Mommy" coined by my oldest son when he was probably three) that I began to cry - tears interrupted by something that suddenly, and thankfully, made us all laugh. But the tears exposed my grief. Until that moment, I'd managed to keep my emotions under control throughout the weekend. Each time over the weekend when my husband reached for my hand, I pulled away: His tenderness, I feared, would only unleash my precarious emotions.
This weekend, we shopped for the dress I will wear to Ellie and Larry's wedding. On one hand, I thought that shopping for that dress was sacrilege under the circumstances, but my husband said my mother would have been the first to say that I should get on with my life despite her absence.
"She probably would have wanted to go with you," my husband said.
I laughed. "No, she would not have wanted to go with us," I said. "She would have said that she didn't understand why I was buying a dress when the wedding is not for six months."
It felt good to remember my mother in a real way. After I chose the dress, I had this feeling that my mother would likely not have approved of it -- a notion that made me shake my head and smile. I believe that it is essential to remember her with a good sense of reality -- no fantasies. I loved her and love her without illusions. I loved her despite the fact that she was a mother who did not love shopping with me. And now I love her because of all ways I knew her and because of all the ways I have come to understand her.
My daughter looked beautiful this weekend. I could not stop gazing at her. Her skin suddenly glows, her jaw line is defined, and has lost the round look of a child. She is delicate and graceful. Her speech is thoughtful and measured. Her laughter fills a room. She has changed: There is a peacefulness about her. I wish my mother were here to see how she has blossomed.
The candle with the wooden wick burns slowly. Each time I pass it in the hallway, sitting beside the bouquet of white flowers, I stop, pause, think, focus on some image of my mother. I also picture the circles in my life -- my husband, our children and those who are the loves of our childrens' lives. I believe that image of a circle is the key to life going on. Living quietly with purpose. Cherishing family. Remembering not to forget one single moment and to be present in each one.
The sun shines so strong today that I had to pull down the blinds for the first time this year. I listen over and over again to My Heart and Soul by Michael Paulo -- it haunts me in just the right kind of way. Nothing like the sweet wailing of a saxophone to feed a soul.