The morning of my mother’s funeral I was as angry as I have ever been. I walked past 400 people with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I avoided them as long as I could, for when they reached me with their hugs and kindness it meant that acceptance had finally won, and I was content to linger in failure forever. I walked on stage and read some words about my mother. I raised my voice and struck the podium. Repeatedly. Then we walked into the sun and I welcomed every bittersweet embrace.
This is what I read:
Memories gain value in a moment. In the blink of an eye. When what once ran steady from story to story, stops forever, despite every sign screaming that we are merely midstream.
Life is dammed like a river, and it is damned in so many ways.
Change changes everything.
Where we laughed about next times becomes a remembrance of what once was, wrapped in flowery language for safe handling, and locked tightly inside the hastily constructed bits of ourselves that we had always planned on keeping open.
Because these are the memories that now mean everything. These are the ways we hold on to each other when we have nothing left to hold on to.
I am lucky enough to have more memories of my mother than I could ever share, and so today I am painting a picture of her with the broadest of brushes, a timeline of moments that flash to the front when I close my eyes, linger for a time too small, and then leak slowly through the pressed, damp corners.
First, I am five or something that looks like it. I am a runaway. A rebel. I have taken refuge at the kitchen table of my grandparents, the parents of my father. There is a puzzle broken unbound upon the surface. She finds me there, like I knew she would, and she sits across from my grandmother. Together we fix every piece we can. It is a healing process, and I never run away again.
And then we are some 45 minutes away at another table littered with felt, thread, and an endless supply of buttons. It is the home of my mother’s parents, our Nana and Papa, and the puppets we sew soon give way to cookies and dominoes and all the things I should do more of with my children. My mom is in every frame, and the soundtrack loops in song and laughter. This is her in happiness.
Fast forward through a montage of smiling years to find my mother crying in the kitchen. I don’t remember which of her parents that it was, maybe the memory is my own concoction, a heartbreaking mix of the two, but I walked in the door and she was standing there, crying, lost in loss, and I knew right then that there was pain coming for all of us, and that tears are kind, and worth it. I don’t remember when the hugging stopped.
When I graduated from high school she wrote me a letter, then typed it to make it official. In it she recounted my apparent childhood desire to leave the rat race behind and pursue a dream that ran directly to clown school, and then, I assume, into a small, crowded car. She reminded me that it was still an option. She knew that life is full of pie in your face, and she felt that I should own it.
The day she turned 40 I was leaning in a doorframe. My mother sat on the bed with my sister in one hand and the phone in the other. On the far end of the line was a woman she didn’t know, the woman that had brought her into this world, and with one quiet word they both knew it. Questions were answered, hearts mended, and from a phone call family sprang.
I walked her down the aisle on three occasions, the first was her wedding to Bill, the second was mine to Tricia, and the third was Tiffany to Wynter. Each time she was light on my arm, a vision of perfect joy, and I swear that she was floating.
However, it wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to really understand what it was that made her do the things that she did. To love the way she loved, bold and constant. I was a father in an instant and it hit me with the strongest blast of emotion, the clearest thought, I have ever known, which was followed immediately by incredible guilt. This is how my parents feel? It floored me to think that anyone could feel for me what I felt for my son at that moment. The first thing I did was call my mother and apologize.
And that is when Mom became Nana, and she took it all up several notches. She was born to be a grandparent, and my boys Atticus and Zane had the privilege of feeling her love for ten and seven years, respectively. Unfortunately, my sister’s son, Greyson, only had Nana for four short months, but she made the most of it. Their loss is our loss. They do not yet realize all that they will miss.
My sister and I, on the other hand, have experienced nothing but the unwavering support and unconditional love of our mother, and we know everything we will miss.
We will miss everything.
The last words that my mother said to me were “I love you.”
And “I love you, too” was my final goodbye.
I will say those words again, often, to her and to all of you, and if you take anything from the life of my mother I beg you to take that. Please. Tell people that you love them. Be loud and unabashed. Be soft and tender. Write it down, text it, leave it in a message, sing it in a song. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but do it. Say I love you. Say it often. Every. Chance. You. Get.
That is the value of my mother’s memory, and we are all the richer for having loved her.