Five years ago today, my mom passed away. Last weekend was Mother’s Day, and May 14th is mom’s birthday. A brutal series of reminders.
This time of year, I start to consider a different chronology of my life — a calendar dated from May 10, 2006. Five months after mom passed away, I married Danny. Three years later I published my first article, and a year after that I graduated with my doctorate. As many remind me, my mom was certainly there in spirit when all those things happened. Obviously it’s not the same.
And that calendar unreels, marked with the hundreds of things small and momentous that will happen somewhere in the distance. Places mom should be. Shopping for new shoes, dealing with difficult students, getting a haircut. My first tenure-track position, my first house, and maybe my first child. All without mom there.
It feels impossible, finding a way to remember someone who is the keystone in my life — someone who made things so good and safe but in her absence, even five years later, leaves things troubled and complicated and sore. Of course, I remember everything that was amazing about my mom, and I’ve written about those things here. But it’s still difficult, and painful, to reconcile the way life keeps moving on and the way she remains, in a sense, frozen in some sort of amber. She’s unable to see — in a way I can understand, anyway — what my life is now, and how it will be. I have to understand myself as the same daughter, connected to her just as closely, while that part of my life without her grows larger and heavier. Losing mom requires me to accept a relationship mediated by all this time that has passed.
At mom’s memorial service, I read “Bridging” by Marge Piercy, from Circles on the Water. At the heart of the poem, Piercy offers the image of a “clear umbilicus… thread we spin fluid and finer than hair / but strong enough to build a bridge on.” The poems ends:
Nobody can live on a bridge
or plant potatoes
but it is fine for comings and goings,
meetings and partings and long views
and a real connection to someplace else
where you may
in the crazy weathers of struggle
now and again want to be.
The days after mom passed away were blurry and surreal, and I felt like I was on autopilot while finding something to say in front of everyone gathered at Saint Mark’s. (I’m still so inspired by all of those people there to remember her; it felt like the world in that room.) But looking back now, I think I chose Piercy’s poem because it offers the closest thing to a resolution to the conflict of memory and mourning and moving forward.
And it does so without apologizing for the inadequacy of that resolution. Piercy doesn’t pretend that a bridge is solid ground. Long views and meetings and partings. Not life. It will never be enough, because what came before was so big, so irreplaceable. But it’s what you have, and it’s something.
I like to think about mom, but I don’t like to dwell on the painful part of remembering her. I prefer to think of her dancing in the kitchen. I like remembering how, on the days when I would bring her lunch at school, I could hear her voice echoing through the hallway, laughing with her students. How when she visited me in Houston in my early days of graduate school, we watched reality television, sipped wine, and ate the crusted sugar off take-out creme brulee. How she would make up songs to sing to the dog. She might not have been at my wedding, but she was there when I chose my dress. She didn’t get the chance to see my name in print, but she taught me how to write.
Not land for planting potatoes, perhaps. But bridges.