The Mercury (Pottstown, PA)
A mother’s bond will never disappear
The other day, a reader compared me to a Fox News provocateur who only wrote “made-up stories” to stoke controversy and drive a deeper wedge into the societal divide. He wanted to know why
I didn’t write about my family, or something.
Interestingly enough, I had planned to write about one member of that family today, and didn’t need any prodding from this anonymous suburbanite (who later wrote a nice email to apologize for his caustic tone, so he gets points there).
Seven years ago this week, Lucy Flowers died. It’s taken a while for me to write those words in exactly that way — “Lucy Flowers died.” Readers who’ve been with me for the almost decade-long ride at this paper know that my mother left us on Aug. 8, 2014. I’ve written about it on frequent occasion, but usually use euphemisms like the one you just saw: “Left us.” I also employed “passed away,” “rejoined my father,” “passed on,” “shed this mortal coil,” “went to a better place,” “found peace,” “greeted the angels” and other Hallmark card turns of language.
The clinical finality of “Lucy Flowers died” was something I avoided because it sounded harsh, brutally so, and I didn’t want to admit to myself or to you that she had ceased to be a presence in my daily life. To suggest that a woman who was “dead” was with me when I shopped, took walks in the evening, worked out on the elliptical (smirking as she saw me sweat), tried to impersonate a competent cook and went about living seemed sepulchral and ghoulish.
But she is with me when I do those things, and she is dead, and that’s a fact seven years into my orphaned state. I do feel orphaned, even though I hit 60 this year. My mother had me when she was 22, and I had her until I was 52, so it might seem silly to compare myself to a foundling like Oliver Twist. But anyone who has loved and lost a mother understands that the umbilical cord does not thin with the passage of time, nor does it break. It becomes elastic, flexible, and stretches to accommodate the changes in the “child’s” life as he or she accumulates degrees and friends and love interests. It stretches to the children of those children, in a beautiful and mystical way. But it does not disappear.
We are always children, even when we are parents, even when, like me, we are alone.
I cannot even say that Lucy has been physically gone these seven years. When I look in the mirror a certain way at a certain angle, I see her. When I frown and grimace at fools, I perceive the same storm clouds in my expression that shadowed her beautiful brown eyes. When I laugh, I hear her own soprano tinkle, even though I’m closer to a sarcastic contralto. It’s only when I cry that I find it hard to locate her, because she rarely cried in my presence.
And in my house, there are pieces of her in almost every corner, things she made or photos, or objects we purchased together and I inherited because I took them. I have a rosary that belonged to my grandmother, and that she kept in her handbag. I have some loose bobby pins that are worth 3 cents apiece but, because they held up her blueblack hair, are worth more than the Hope diamond. I have her recipe for pumpkin pie that she found in an old Bulletin column but changed so drastically that it became her own. I’m not giving it out, even though I can’t bake.
I know that one of these days, I will see her again. Of that, I am certain. Of course, saying this doesn’t make the anniversary of her death any easier. Lucy Flowers died in the earliest hours of an August morning, the same month that she married her beloved Ted, the same month that the sweet dogs Chance and Sophie - who tried to fill the emptied house were born.
John Donne wrote the holy poem that generations of grieving children have repeated to themselves at the deathbeds of their parents:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Seven years on, I can say that my mother died. Because now I know that what is gone is immense, what remains is substantial, and what awaits is everything.