I always called my mom ‘Madre.’
I don’t know why or where it started – neither one of us spoke Spanish.
But maybe it was because she always exuded an exotic vitality – the type of inner light that when coupled with her physical beauty, made her impossible to miss. She was the center of attention in any room – no matter what she was doing. Her English spoken with a lilting South African accent made people tune in and pay attention. She looked and sounded like more than a ‘Mom.’ So she became a ‘Madre.’
I have this vivid memory of her and my dad whirling around a ballroom floor. I must have been about 11 years old, and we were at a wedding or something. I just remember that people stopped to stare at the elegant, graceful, and VITAL woman as she danced past tall and dark haired on the arm of my dad, tall and blond.
Today it has been one month since my mom died.
Today it has been almost two months since the last time she had enough strength and energy to have a conversation with me that was longer than a minute.
Today it has been more than two months since I gave her a hug.
I’ve been back home only days and yet not only has my life changed, even my home, my haven, my space… has changed.
Like any mother-daughter relationship, our relationship was complicated. My sister, my mom and I used to be like the Three Musketeers. We finished each others sentences and did everything together.
But things change. Life intrudes. You move away. You get married. You spend all your time at work.
Now I have moments where I think…. the last time I did [insert whatever] my mom was still alive. Even wondering next to the Amsterdam canals leaves me sad.
We had all these plans – about how one day she, my sister and I would travel together to visit the shops of Paris or how she and my brother would one day sun themselves on a beach in Hawaii. Instead she spent her time traveling vicariously through phone calls.
I would be standing on a street corner in Paris, or sitting on a stone bench in Munich, or leaning against a fountain in Rome, or walking through cobbled streets in Dublin, or be sitting in a cafe in London… and I would pick up my cell phone and call my mom. We’d talk for only seconds, both aware that it was expensive. But she’d always ask the same things: What have I seen? Where have I been? What have I eaten? What am I wearing? What are the local women wearing?
My mom was a fashionista of the first degree :)
As life’s changes happened, I started to call others. For years I called not her, but my then-husband. Or my sister. Or a friend.
My sister and my mom spoke daily. But my mom and I, our relationship shifted and changed. Words intruded and the spaces they created will probably never be wholly healed. In the last few years we sometimes went weeks without talking.
But today I couldn’t help but wish that I could pick up the phone and call her to describe what I am looking at. To hear her voice. To just say ‘hi.’
To hear her say my name.
She had encouraged me to become independent and have my own life, but now that talking to her has become a bit more metaphysical in nature, I can’t seem to help wanting to fill all the other corners of my life with her.
I have big shoes to follow in- she left behind a legacy that we three kids saw in concrete reality as people came out to pay their respects. We could not walk one block in Coronado without someone sharing with us something special and beautiful about our mom.
It was overwhelming, but also like a balm on a raw wound.
As life forces one to keep moving forward, my challenge will be to keep memories of her close by, to find ways to live up to her name, and figure out how to share with her what I feel and see as I stand on new street corners or sit on different benches in new cities.
She may already know better than me where those will be and what I will see.
Hope she steers me towards good spots. Maybe now my sense of direction will improve.
(Her obituary can be read here. I was really thankful to be able to write it and get a chance to share with the world who she was and will always be.)