Fireworks on the 4th

Not only did my mother love fireworks, she also loved to try and capture a good one with a photo. Usually they are pretty elusive, but my mom got a pretty good one in this shot here.
Not only did my mother love fireworks, she also loved to try and capture them with a photo. Usually they were pretty elusive, but she got a good one in this shot.

Two years ago today my mom sat in her wheel chair at MSUM’s Nemzek field.  A yearly ritual, we would park nearby, walk up to the stands, listen to the cover band play old American classics and wait for the lights to dim.  Once it was fully dark we would see the first reload shoot up with a “thwump”, a swirling smoke stream left in its wake, and then the first “pop” and “ahh” would echo the stands.  My mom was usually the loudest to “ooo” and “ahh”; sometimes a pop would sparkle so impressively she would start to clap.  She always remembered to tell us that the “palm tree” ones were her favorite—an opinion that I shared either because of her immense proselytization of their beauty and “awesomeness” or just because they really are the best and most awesome—I’ll never really be sure.

 

Two years ago was different though.  This time we sat on the side because my mother would never be able to make it up the steps of the bleachers.  We brought her walker/wheelchair and parked in the handicap spots about 100 meters from where we plopped our chairs on the grass.  It was still a great view and you could hear the music off the side of the bleachers.   My mother had wanted to go and had rallied a significant amount of energy just to make it to this unorthodox spot.  We talked about small things that I can’t remember much until the fireworks began. After the first pop or two it wasn’t an “ooo” and “ahh” that I heard, but a remark filled with knowledge and sadness, “I just keep thinking—long pause—that these are the last fireworks that I’ll see.”

 

And right away I quipped back with a, “You don’t know that mom.  You might be able to see them next year.  Things could get better like they have before!” But, she did know and had grasped something remarkable that few of us get to experience.

 

What would it be like to see fireworks with eyes that knew they were the last you’d ever see?  What would it be like to be aware that it was the end?  Even in old age it’s rare to know exactly when you’re going to go.  How good and bad and overwhelming and peaceful would it feel to get to say goodbye to someone with finality?

 

My mother, in her brown wig with highlights and her uncomfortable walker/wheelchair sitting outside the Moorhead football field, knowing this would be it; “ooo” and “ahh” she continued after we both let the comments be forgotten.  “These palm tree ones are my favorite.  I always love the way they sparkle.”

 

Me too mom.  And I still do.

Letters to the Ones We Love (On Valentine’s day and not so special days in mid-July)

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend and there’s lots of love around.  Personally, I find this holiday to be a mix of the annoying (overpriced 7-course meals, hetero-normative displays everywhere, so much sugar) and beautiful (my students all saying why they love and appreciate each other, excuses to take time for yourself with the person you love, and really delicious 7-course meals).  But, my mom always taught me to cling to the best of things, so I’m sending out love and holding close to the love I’m given.

My motivation to write a book about my mother came from reading the journals I had written the summer I was home in Fargo taking care of her as she was dying.  Throughout those 3 months my partner Brandon supported me over the phone from Philadelphia.  It was also during that time that we decided to have a ceremony that would include my mom.  Not a wedding, but a day when we could share our love with each other and our families.  It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. The pictures from our “Celebration of Love and Family” (as we chose to call it) are gems of my mom’s happiest moments 12 days before she died.

Celebrating love together
Celebrating love together

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  The piece of journal writing I’m sharing today is from a not so special day when I needed support and Brandon was there for me.  He continues to be a person that I am so happy to be with while we break and rebuild.

My mom knew that I would be okay because I had you.  It is a part of what made her passing easier.  She loved you because you’re awesome, but also because she trusted you to see that I was well taken care of.  You love me in a way that she always did–with gentleness, blind (but you try to see my flaws too) optimism, and abounding support.

This Valentine’s Day I remember my mother who taught me I deserved to be loved, and think of Brandon who helped keep me together when my world broke.  This love is something I hope for everyone sharing in my writing today.  May you find someone to hold hands with as you live, as you break, and as you walk into the dark.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Love to you all.

——————————————–

July 16th, 2014

 

Hey Brandon,

I’m writing to you while you’re so far away in Philly tonight.

It’s unexpected to see so many good things coming out of tragedies, but, I guess I’ve always thought that. It’s peculiar, but having to face death makes the richness of life come alive. Things that weren’t important, really aren’t important and of course the things that are you hug and hold dear.  I’m thinking often about what I actually want to do with this life because I’m so very aware of its limits.  

It means a lot that you’re willing to be here with me, emotionally.  I mean, I think it’s the right thing to do, but I’m sure it’s not easy.  You get to do all the support and none of the actual experience sharing.  You brighten up my family though, just with a phone call.  It’s funny how much they love you, how much they’ve taken you in to be one of us.  I’m pretty sure they think you’re the ultimate partner for me (and that’s probably a good thing).

Sometimes, when I think about how hard all this is, and that there will be a time when it gets even harder, I just imagine myself in your arms. It’s like I know I will be okay, because when I break you’ll just hold me together.  

It’s hard to be away from you, but this time it doesn’t feel hard for the same reasons.  I don’t feel a lessening of our relationship, even though the distance is real.  I’ve never questioned once while I’m here whether we should really be together. It’s nice to know I want to belong with someone.  It’s nice to know we can argue about something and we’ll both really listen to the each other.  It’s not nice to not feel you…that distance of skin is tangible.  It just makes me feel tired and like I’d really like to kiss you soon. 

I’m so thankful that I’m here.  

This past month I’ve started to accept the fact that I’m going to loose my mom.  That it’s going to hurt like hell, and I’m going to miss her everyday, but somehow I I will be okay.  

She was a lot happier today.  I think that’s where I want to turn my energy–not into trying to make her live forever, but in trying to make her life the best while I can. We are all going to have to die, so isn’t it best to go into the dark holding the hands of people you love.

I love you. You’re the best to share life with.

Betsy

Brandon, my mother, and I during our Celebration of Love and Family
Brandon, my mother, and I during our Celebration of Love and Family

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

Her Secret Cupboard

My mom has a secret cupboard where she stores extra presents that she bought.

I guess it wasn’t actually that secret; my brother and I knew that if we looked in the cupboards in the basement across from the big freezer we would ruin our Christmas/Birthday surprise.

Surprisingly, it was easy for my brother and I to resist the urge to spoil our presents and we mostly left the cupboards alone. That task became more difficult as time went on, though, because my mother had a bit of a present buying addiction and the cupboards had a way of overflowing. She would buy gifts from January until December and usually by around October she’d bought more than enough presents for everyone she knew, so she’d start buying “emergency gifts” or extras for the next year.

It was one of her best and most hoarding-like qualities.

Even though she gave gifts prolifically to those around her and her family, those cupboards in the basement across from the big freezer are still full of “extras”.

This summer I found two Dr. Seuss books there (Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat) that I brought to my new elementary classroom. I knew that she would have wanted to give me a starter care package for my new job and my new kiddos—the cupboards made sure she still could.

And last birthday my dad ciphered through the “extras” and gave me the “Happy Birthday” black socks with cake pieces all over them. This Christmas he found a beautifully hand painted mug still with the tag on the bottom from Ten Thousand Villages, but politely with the price torn off (my mother always taught me it was rude to let someone know how much you’d spent—or saved—on their present).

This was the best gift. This was the gift that read “From: Mom”. This was her still giving and giving even a year and a half after she was gone.

I wonder if some tiny part of her knew…
Knew that she would have to leave early.
Knew that she didn’t want to.
Knew that we would need a cupboard of presents to last us through the years.

I haven’t ravaged through all the extras yet, I still want to be surprised by my mother’s quirky gifts at Christmas and birthdays. But, I have taken a peek and seen baby clothes and house warming wine glasses.

These things won’t make up for the fact that she won’t be there when we move into our first house or if I adopt or have a baby, but a little part of her will be there.

A little part of you will always be here.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart) –-E. E. Cummings

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