Four years. 48 months. 1461 days.
June 22, 2012.
My childhood home was still. But we were restless.
The wall clock told us it was just after midnight.
The minutes ticked by as my brother and I flipped channels aimlessly.
A Miami Heat clad Lebron James lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy bled into re-runs of Friends.
We wandered the house as if we hadn’t been there before. Conversation was pointless.
And then a calm settled over the space. A sense of peace. The struggle ended. The pain ceased.
Four years ago my Mom took her final breath on earth. 48 months ago she went to be with the Lord. 1461 days ago my Mom became my angel.
As June 22, 2016 approached, my heaviness seemed more extreme than in the previous years. It has never been easy. But, as I’m sure many of you can attest, it isn’t always the anniversary of loss that unearths the deepest grief. The heartache can come in waves … on any day … at any time … because of the smell of a familiar perfume, a favorite holiday gone unshared, an experience that only that one person could appreciate. Many times I have caught tears welling in my eyes in the middle of the day as I caught a glimpse of something that whispered Mom in my ear.
I reflected to try and understand the reasons for this weight I was feeling. I struggled to wrap my brain around these four years that seemed to fly by, especially when those final days and moments are still so vivid in my head. Is it possible four years have passed since I hugged her? Was it really 48 months ago that we were trading memories as we sorted through the mounds of family photos, each one a cause for pause … and usually a story? Could it have been 1461 days since we held her hand and told her we would be ok?
So much can happen in four years. You can graduate high school; graduate college. A President serves an entire term. An athlete finally gets his/her chance to shine at the Olympics. And we each earn one extra day in our annual calendar.
Four years is such a long time.
And now I realize, sadly, that I’ve forgotten a lot of things in that span. What a heavy realization. Some of my memories were fading, especially those pre-cancer memories — the best ones. The family vacations, the graduations, the holidays; heck even the arguments we had (they are part of the story too!). The taste of her cooking, the way she sang Happy Birthday on my voicemail. Just the mere sound of her voice when she was healthy and vibrant.
Four years. 48 months. 1461 days.
Tim O’Brien once wrote:
“But this too is true: stories can save us.
The bodies are animated. You can make the dead talk. Sometimes they’ll say things like, “Roger that” or “Timmy, stop crying,” which is what (my childhood friend) Linda would say to me after she was dead.”
But in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly, that which is absolute and unchanging. In a story, miracles can happen.”
In my mind, I can write beautiful stories. I can turn back time to the period before cancer and see my mom as a beautiful, vibrant, active woman who took pride in everything she did. I can put her back in her kitchen — the one she scrimped and saved to update — and see her rolling out a piecrust or prepping her infamous stromboli that was a staple at all family gatherings. I can hear her ask me if I want anything to eat within the first five minutes of arriving at home.
In my daydreams, I have the power to rewrite the stories. I can craft them to end the way I wanted instead of having to accept the reality that actually unfolded. I can be at that family event I missed. I can say ‘yes’ when she asks to teach me how to sew. I can just enjoy her chattering about people I’ve never met but she seems convinced I should remember anyway. I can say I’m sorry.
Four years. 48 months. 1461 days.
Six months after my Mom passed away I celebrated her life with #MommyMemories, sharing tidbits and thoughts about Donna Lee Madden on Facebook every day for the month of October. It was therapeutic for me. I absorbed other peoples’ memories that elected to post. I made time daily to think about my Mom.
Now, years later, I’m scared of losing her again because I’m not keeping her close in the only way I know how — by sharing the stories. By listening to her sisters and brothers talk about the past. By reminiscing about her life, our life. By remembering her values, her idiosyncrasies, her tendencies. By learning from our mistakes as a family, as a mother and daughter.
Today, I want to celebrate my mom’s 59 years of life — a life I’ve actually learned more about only in the aftermath of her death. Below is my current collection of #MommyMemories. I encourage you, no implore you, to add to the list because I don’t want to forget them anymore. I feel certain those of you who are wrestling with loss and grasping at memories want to preserve every story you can. Make your own list. Share it with me. Let those loved ones live in us.
#MommyMemories of Donna Lee Madden (7.19.52 — 6.22.12)
- Mom was the BEST bargain shopper I know. She would have won any one of those extreme couponing shows. The store sometimes paid her to take items.
- Related, Mom shopped for birthdays and Christmas all year long. She showered us with gifts because she searched deals and would never be caught in a store on December 24.
- Mom sewed my First Holy Communion dress. And one of my Homecoming dresses. Teal.
- She didn’t drink much alcohol, but when she did it was white wine with ice. Always ice. Even in milk. J
- Mom made the absolute best apple pie ever. Seriously.
- She dealt with my extreme dislike of my curly (unruly) hair. She (usually impatiently) French braided it before school … only to have me complain because there were “bumps.”
- Mom never used one of those money envelopes to give a cash gift. She would accordion fold the bills and make a big bow, or better yet, freeze bills and coins of all shapes and sizes into a block of ice and give you some “cold cash.”
- She mailed cards for everything. Never missed a birthday, anniversary, holiday, baby, graduation … and somehow she was nearly always on time with the mail as well!
- Mom was a terrific cook. Always, always, always from scratch.
- She made homemade applesauce, canned spaghetti sauce, made jellies … and was one of those people who could cook without a recipe.
- Mom made the coolest birthday cakes for us as kids. Trains, bunnies, dogs … cakes that needed patterns to create!
- Back in the day, Mom and I were in a bowling league together. One year we won the championship on a team with my friend and her dad.
- If you think I walk fast, Mom would do circles around you.
- She had a green thumb and loved the lilac tree in our back yard. She sent us on the school bus with bunches of lilacs for our teachers … thoughtful, except we were all allergic to the flowers so we would arrive wheezing with tears running down our faces. (Not to mention the fact that we’d have to sit in classrooms scented by lilacs all day …and then come back home to them, too)
- Mom didn’t want me to go to college 10 hours away.
- She wasn’t much of a sports fan — except when her kids were playing — but as she got older she began to read the game stories I wrote during my career in athletics. And more importantly, she managed to attend more Steelers games than I have!
- Care packages were totally Mom’s thing. Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day … I would get a box of goodies up until the year she died.
Here is where I’ll stop today. But I intend for this to live as my #MommyMemories journal. It’s the best way I can keep her alive in me, in us. Stories can make miracles like that happen.