places I now and again want to be

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.


7 thoughts on “places I now and again want to be

  1. I want to say thank you for this. It made me cry, but in a good way. This October will mark the five-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I’m getting married this summer to someone she’ll never meet. My book came out in April. The flowers are blooming in the front yard of a house I bought last year. Yesterday, I made a terrible (but also hilarious) error at work, and I wanted to call her so very, very badly. But, then again, I could hear her voice in my head…and I knew exactly what she’d say if she were here to take that call.

    The calendar I’m living feels a lot like the kind you’ve described. It has a Before and an After, and it bears dates with weird double meanings: April 14th, the anniversary of my dissertation defense and her diagnosis; June 22, my birthday and the anniversary of her failed stem cell transplant; Halloween, the anniversary of her funeral. Sometimes I feel like these dates are lodged inside of me like splinters I never bothered to remove–I’ve grown around them, padded myself against them, but I can worry them with my thumb when I want to.

    This is a rather long-winded way of saying that your post resonated with me. And I’m appreciative.

    • The Before and After is something I certainly didn’t anticipate. Not that I knew at all what to expect when mom died, but I still feel so powerfully the way it divided my life. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.

      But I’m appreciative of you, and your comment. It’s simultaneously sad and comforting, in an odd way, to remember and connect with so many of my friends who have also lost a parent.

  2. Beautiful writing. I feel the same way about my dad. It will be 8 years on July 23 and, though I am beginning to heal, every happy moment in my life will always bring some sadness because I can’t share it with him. I think about the same moments as you… I cried at my wedding, my graduation with my Masters, every big moment in grad school so far (and small ones too), and I can’t even think about holding my first child without him there. I know he’s “somewhere” watching me and puffing his chest up about his daughter, but there’s no way around it, it’s unfair.

    • Thanks, Laurie. And I can’t imagine him being anything but proud of you — especially the way you’ve been rocking it lately! I can tell from your stories about him on your blog that he was a wonderful guy.

  3. this is so beautiful, and thank you for sharing this. i have not lost a parent so i cannot even begin to imagine what it is like, especially on the fifth anniversary of your mom’s passing. but i love you dearly, and hope that the sadness this time of year brings does not overwhelm you too much. your mom was awesome, and if her dance moves were anything like your dad’s, they must have been pretty damn great. sending you lots of love.

    • Thanks, Ames! And that pic of you and my dad dancing at my wedding is probably my favorite photo from the whole day. Whenever I mention you, he tells me to tell you hi! And then he says, “I really like Amy McCann.”

  4. Ok. I broke down. I read this one.

    I miss her too. She was spectacular. pause…

    Toby is tapping my side while I type. Vicki knows what this is…

    …This stuff is so well written. I have been a bad husband by not reading this more often. Or at all. Good stuff Love.
    We must discuss getting you a proper carrot for the masthead.

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