“This morning when I had my cereal I patted it down into the milk like Grandma Ruth did.”

This from my oldest, last night at dinner.

I was confused.  Milk?  Who?  Oh.  My mom- Nana- but sometimes “Grandma Ruth” because my oldest never knew her.  A more formal name, maybe, to remind me/us who she’s talking about?

I had forgotten this little thing my mom used to do.  When she said it, a little room in the back of my memory opened up.  Yes- she did do that.  Patted down the cereal into the milk, with the back of her spoon.  Usually a combination of two cereals- one like cardboard and one like cardboard-sweetened-with-honey.  (We never got the good cereals.)

“I must have told you that- what- years ago?  I didn’t even remember that.”

“I think you told me when I was five.”

It was like a gift from my oldest.  A gift that is sweet and hurts at the same time.  It lights up a part of me and hurts me, too.



We have been listening to a lot of Mumford & Sons since we went to their show this weekend.  (We met Mumford!  And a couple of Sons!  They were so kind!).  How (terribly) timely to have watched the video for Beloved earlier that day.  I was already thinking of her- Nana, Grandma Ruth, Mom- and then the cereal comment at dinner.

I took a bath.

Cried a lot.

Went to bed.



“I’ll make some tea”

I played an old cd in the car yesterday and heard Bonnie Raitt sing “I Don’t Want Anything to Change”.  My friend Stephanie Chapman wrote that song and I love it.  And good grief if it doesn’t take me back to when mom’s death was still new.

I have written about her before.  Lots of times.  She was diagnosed with leukemia in November 2003.  She went through chemo and radiation.  One of her sisters was the bone marrow donor for her transplant at Johns Hopkins, which was a success.  She recovered at her other sister’s house in Baltimore, close to the hospital.  In June 2004 she got an infection.  Her body was so depleted from everything already.  We called an ambulance, which took her to the Leesburg emergency room.  Then they transported her to the Lansdowne ICU.  She died a day later.  

The odds, as I remember the numbers, were pretty consistently poor.  In spite of this I always thought she would be in the percentage that survived.  Is anyone ever prepared for a death?  I don’t know- but I was not.

Two months after she died I moved to Charlottesville for grad school.  This was the first place I lived that she never saw.  (I mean- she knew Charlottesville.  She and my dad met here!  But she never saw my house, my space, my people here.) Even when I lived in Australia, she and my dad came to visit.  (And we all went skydiving from 10,000 feet!)

A few weeks after I got here I signed up for a mentoring program our church used to run.  They connected women from different stage of life who wanted to meet together so they could…I don’t know, exactly.  Exchange ideas, hear life lessons, maybe pray.  I signed up because I had this gaping wound  of loss that I carried around with me all the time.  I remember writing something about my mom’s death on the form I filled out.  I remember thinking “Well- whoever it is- now she’ll know what she’s getting into.” (Because not everyone is game for that.  Right?)

Shortly after I filled out the form, I got a…phone call, I think?  Bev had been asked by a friend, who was in charge of the mentoring program.  She was forthcoming about her self-doubts.  Maybe she thought she had to be type A or a real Bible scholar or something, which she was not.  But- did I want to meet for coffee?  I did.    

I don’t remember how many times Bev and I had hung out, but there was one Friday night that first fall when I was just so sad.  I was driving my mom’s VW Passat, making my way around Charlottesville, and crying.   I called her when I was on Rugby Road to ask if I could come over.  I was sort of doing the shuddery breathing on the phone and just said “I miss my mom.”  I remember thinking that I didn’t even know Bev that well yet.  And here I was- crying to her on the phone.  

“Of course.  Come right over.  I’ll make some tea.”  By the time I got to her house the major flooding had stopped.  I was probably red around the eyes and nose, and a little puffy.  I don’t remember what we even talked about, or if I stayed long.  There would have been tea, and Bev always has some sort of cookies on hand.  

When I think about Bev, I don’t think about her deep, probing question.  Or that she really brings the heat and speaks conviction of all of my sin- like the mentor I always wanted in college.  Nah.  I don’t care about those things.  (Though Bev asks very thoughtful questions and sin surely comes up from time to time).  

I think about that Friday night, and many many coffee dates.  Her presence.  Her availability.  Her willingness to meet with a 25 year old motherless daughter, coming in with an open wound.  (Damn if that isn’t brave, in my opinion).  

She came to my wedding.  She remembers my birthday, my kids’ birthdays, my anniversary, and the anniversary of my mom’s death.  She came in the middle of the night when I went into labor with my second child, to take care of the toddler who would wake up a little confused.  We’ve met for coffee for 11 years now, with no signs of stopping.  I could not be more thankful.   

Moving and Mother’s Day

We moved this weekend. Our fourth- and final- move on this block. What can I say? We like this block.

Moving is exciting and exhausting, even when it is just across the street. The two weeks leading up to the move had me walking through our house, feeling totally discontent with the level of crazy and mess, but knowing it would just be like that for a while longer. One of my kids has been particularly difficult to enjoy lately and it dawned on me that maybe that child feels discontent with the crazy and mess, too. I don’t know why it would only be the adults who feel that way.

The good thing about moving is the intention/ambition to go through all the things, once again, and find a home for all of it. If there’s no home for it, I am likely to pitch it. My “donate” pile is pretty large right now and I have already taken multiple trips to Goodwill before we moved. Inevitably, though, I hit a wall of weariness with all of the things and just start putting them anywhere to “deal with it later” and then don’t. So we’ll see how I am doing in a few weeks, and if there will still be boxes lining the dining room at that point.

On another topic, Mothers Day was this weekend. Oh, you didn’t know? You must live under a rock.

It has been almost 11 years since my mom died. She met my then-boyfriend/now-husband, but has missed my move to Charlottesville, my wedding, my grad school graduation, my four kids. My four moves on the same block.

I remember when I moved to Charlottesville, right after she died, and I realized she wouldn’t be coming to town to take me shopping at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. That’s a mom thing to do- take me shopping for the extra pair of sheets and a new toilet scrub brush. But I suppose I did that trip on my own.

I remember the first spring without her. There was a day when everything turned green and it occurred to me that this was the first spring she was not here for.

That first year or so was all like that. It was a constant awareness, with big punches of particular sadness that hit me.

Now the punches are less frequent. I can- and do- enjoy Mother’s Day and the punch is not as intense. But now- 11 years later- it is still a dull pain that she is not here. It surfaces differently at different times.

Some of what I have done without her- my wedding, and having babies- I got to see her do with my siblings. So I can sort of imagine how she would have done that with me. Like, I saw her care a ton about certain details of my sister’s wedding, so I imagine how she would have had the same opinions about mine. I probably would have felt annoyed with her (and her with me) during some of that process. (But I do think she would have loved my dress. Mainly because I found it at an outlet store when my sister and I were shopping for flip flops, and it cost $89. Right up my mom’s alley.)

I saw her with my oldest nephew and nieces when they were toddlers and babies. So I can picture her with my kids as little babies or toddlers. But I feel sad that I don’t have a clear imagination of her with my almost-7 year old. I didn’t get to see that. So the template isn’t there to insert my older kids into now.

I saw my mom navigate having adult kids who did grown-up things like buy houses and get real jobs and stuff. So I can insert myself into that, even though I had neither when she died. But I didn’t see her watch her child turn 40, or see a grandchild through a big surgery, or welcome a grandchild from the other side of the globe through adoption. I imagine her into those situations, but don’t really know how she would have navigated them.

Would she have fussed and prayed and worried around me during his surgery at Johns Hopkins? Or stayed in Loudoun and met with her bible study group that morning to pray? I don’t know. Probably whatever I asked her to do, but I don’t get to really know the answer. No template.

Here’s a template I do have for my mom; one that I thought of yesterday. I was particularly snappy with my two oldest kids last night. We talked about it and I told them I was sorry, and asked their forgiveness. That is a page from my mom’s book. That is me, stepping into what I remember of her.