On Momentous Occasions and Gifts of the Heart
Today was difficult- I won’t sugar coat it. I spent the morning tying up loose ends on the phone for my mother, finding it challenging to get the words, “my mother passed away last Friday” out of my mouth without choking up. In the afternoon, I continued to work on packing up Mom’s apartment by myself. In the midst of all of this, I received a call from the crematorium….they had my mothers’ cremains and wanted to deliver them to me. I was totally unprepared for that call, had no idea that this was how it worked, or that today would be the day. I had a moment of intense panic…okay, it was more than a moment…but was definitely intense.
I was incredibly grateful that Theresa, Mom’s wonderful home nurse, was at Princeton Towers attending to patients. I had already planned to see her this afternoon, so that we could load Mom’s snowman collection into her car. I called her, and she immediately came to be with me. What a gift to not have to face this moment alone, as Dan was in a meeting, and I had been unable to reach him. Somehow, having a friend to stand beside you makes any challenge easier, especially one who loved my mother so much. I have felt so alone so much of the time during all of this- not because I don’t have a great support system, but because things have seemed to become most critical when everyone is at their most busy. Life.
I began to tear up as the kindly gentleman approached me bearing Mom’s ashes. This whole past month has been surreal, from Mom’s fateful fall, to her time at St. Martin’s in the Pines, to her final days at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I never dreamed I would be here just a month later, clutching a container filled with what had been my mother. She is not coming back…this was a mental slap of reality. No more trying to pretend that there will be a phone call to say goodnight or good morning. She has truly made her transition. I felt like lead.
Theresa wrapped her arm around me, and together we carried Mom’s cremains back to her apartment. Once there, I crumpled to the floor amidst all of the chaos of packing, holding the container, and sobbed. The tears were healing, and after a few minutes I was able to think more clearly, returning to my other new normal state of numbness. My sister, Linda, and I have discussed the feelings we are experiencing, and I think she said it best- we feel like we are melting into the floor, our hearts like lead in our chests.
Once Theresa left, I continued going through Mom’s papers, photos, and other treasures, putting things in piles for my sister, my brother, grandchildren, etc. My mom was not wealthy in the monetary sense by any means, but she had many treasures of the sentimental kind. I came across so many things that touched my heart, made me smile when I thought of Mom’s sweet and gentle heart. I found my kindergarten photo, snaggle-toothed and unbelievably young. Memories flashed by me again and again, so many shared experiences in our fifty one years together. I thought to myself that I am so much like Mom, squirreling away my treasures in special places. I stood a little taller at the realization.
Several of the Wayward Seniors came to visit me and pay their respects, each with a story to tell about Dorothy. It is difficult to hear these stories, but beautiful, too. We are doing our best to get the word out about Mom’s ‘Celebration of Life’ memorial gathering on Sunday, wanting as many of the seniors to be there as possible. I believe it will be a large gathering, as, aside from the Wayward Seniors, many of our family and friends will attend. My hope is that it is a joyous occasion, full of laughter and stories, in the true spirit of my mother.
By the end of the long day, I was spent mentally and physically. I loaded the car with Mom’s cremains and several other items and headed home to Chez Gainey. Dan was teaching yoga…I just can’t go to class with him quite yet…so I came home to the warm welcome of our cat and two goofy dogs. It is interesting to me to see the animals’ reaction to my grief. I know that they can sense something is different. Sophie, the border collie mix, is especially sensitive. Each time I cry, she presses against me and looks into my eyes. Animal therapy is a good thing.
I put Mom’s cremains on the old oak bed in which she was born. It just felt like the right place for tonight. Tomorrow, I will find a safe place to put them until we make the trip to North Carolina to release them into the beautiful Knottyhead Falls where Dan and I were married, and where we will be released someday, too. I smile when I think of all this, as Mom was adorable when she told me, saying she wanted to be there “if I won’t bother you and Dan.” So Dorothy.
I went downstairs to find the most touching surprise, a gift from Backun Musical Services, the Canadian clarinet maker for whom I am an artist/ clinician. They made the most beautiful clarinet bell for me out of cocobolo wood, with the inscription:
In Love and Remembrance
I began crying yet again, but tears of gratitude and love. My clarinet, my art, is forever entwined with memories and love of my mother. I vividly remember the beautiful antique necklace she traded to get my first plastic clarinet from a neighbor when I was going into the 7th grade, the many sacrifices she made so that I would have what I needed to grow and succeed as a musician. This most thoughtful of gifts touched my heart deeply, and I look forward to having it help me sing beautiful music through my clarinet.
One of the most amazing things to rise out of this saddest of times, has been the overwhelming love and support from family, friends, and colleagues. I have received hundreds of messages of support that have helped to buoy me in the rough waters of loss and grief. My online family from the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, the wonderful souls who adopted Mom in the last year of her life, have helped me to begin the healing process through creativity, encouragement, and inspiration. Friends, colleagues, and former and current students have appeared to express love and offers of help and support. So many beautiful intangible gifts of love surround me, and I am deeply grateful.
My sister and I had a touching revelation last night. I called to tell her about the day, and, as we always do, we reminisced, laughing and crying. I shared with her that soon before Mom passed away, she told me that Linda and I needed to stay close, that we would need each other during this time, that family was so important. Linda’s voice caught, and she told me that Mom said the same exact words to her. In our fractured and far-flung family, Mom gave us yet another gift; a deepening of connection, a joint cause as we come together in grief, but also in love and remembrance. A beautiful legacy from a beautiful and loving woman. We are Dorothy’s girls, and we are so proud of that.
Thank you, Momma. So many gifts, so much love.