I love you now as much as yesterday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I have to count to remember that she would have been 64 today.  I’m sure my dad has thought a time or two about Paul McCartney’s song “64” and that McCartney wasn’t with his first wife at that age either, although their separation was for much different reasons.

 

My mom would have sang it to my dad and they would have laughed and smiled together.

 

But most days I’m not dwelling on what it would’ve been like to have my mom with me anymore.  Most of the days I’m just enjoying my job at a high school that lets me get to know students instead of just teach them.  I’m settling into our new old house that my mother almost feels a part of because I know she would have loved all the intricate parts.  She would talk about the stained glass windows, wood floors and mantle pieces, and how “they just don’t make houses like they used to.” I’m appreciating time with Brandon and how he is such a perfect match for me.  This year for my birthday he made me feel so special with secret gifts and guests, just like my mom always used to.  I’ve been realizing that he helps make missing her less painful because he has so many parts of her personality in him.  Most days I’m getting to focus on building stronger relationships with my dad and brother.  There’s always a bright side that you can find in tragedy (something my mother taught all of us).  I’ve found a real relationship with my dad and a renewed closeness with my brother. Those things would make my mom so happy.  It makes it all better to know she would be so proud of all of us.

 

Most days now I don’t cry when I think of her.  Most times when I’m telling stories I’m laughing and happy to remember.  I feel grateful that so many people that I’ve met after my mom died have told me that they feel like they’ve met her just from the stories and pictures I’ve shown them.   It’s an honor to carry on her stories, to continue her legacy of optimism.

 

So, today when I feel sadness and grief come back I welcome them.  Grief no longer overwhelms me; now it reminds me of the gift that my mother was to all of us.

 

It’s a strange thing– this moving on and living life.  Sometimes I fear that as life continues I’m walking further and further away from the memories of my mother.  But today as I celebrate her I know that I don’t have to worry about losing her in that way.  I hear her voice through my brother when he tells me that mom would be proud of me for standing up for what I believe in, and for working to educate and elevate those experiencing poverty and oppression.  I feel her in the hugs from friends and coworkers who probably don’t even know that they remind me of my mother when they give that good squeeze.  I see her in my own blue hair that I wouldn’t have had the guts to get if I wasn’t able to tell myself, “my mom would LOVE this!”  And I hear her again and again in my head telling me she loves me.

 

Happy birthday mom.  I love you now as much as yesterday, and I always will.

 

 

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)