|My mommy is on the right, with my Auntie Joy and the|
Captain of a cruise ship they took to Greece some years ago.
My mother is not here today. She passed away on October 10, 2004. She was cremated, and we scattered her ashes "at sea," which here in the San Francisco Bay Area actually means off the Marin Headlands, just past the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful little ceremony, so much more ... well, joyful actually ... than the cemetery routine. I have been known to sob uncontrollably at the gravesides of people I never met. (Okay, that was a girl who was in middle school with my own daughter, so that can be understood.) But it was a beautiful, beautiful day when we went out on the Neptune Society's little boat to scatter my parents' ashes. And it felt very freeing. Over the course of my life, there had been a lot of more or less casual conversations about what my mother wanted to be done after she had passed. Obviously she chose cremation, because she belonged to the Neptune Society. But she had also spoken about scattering her ashes at sea. So it felt right.
There have been many times since then that I have regretted this decision. I have a view of San Francisco from my living room window, and I have seen eight years of weather pass over the City. When it is windy and stormy outside, as ridiculous as it may seem, I think of my mother out there in the wild, whipping waves, and wish I had kept her ashes here, where she would be safe and warm. As I said, a ridiculous thought. Wherever she is, I know she is not in her ashes. But feelings are irrational. When my daughter, Libby, and I were talking about what we would do if this mysterious bone turns out to be Michaela, if she is located, Libby said she didn't think we should scatter her ashes. She said that after lying alone and unknown out there for so long, we should bring her home and keep her here, with us. And if we find Michaela and she is not alive, that is just what we are going to do.
This morning, I sat down at my desk and looked out the window. It is a beautiful, clear, sunny day, and from where I am sitting I can see very clearly the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's red, as you probably know, so stands out easily from the rest of the bridges that gather around the City. Now I can sometimes make out the Golden Gate Bridge if I look really hard, but it's perhaps twenty miles away, around a bend, and hidden behind the Bay Bridge, so it's rare that it just jumps out at you, as it did this morning. And when I saw it I thought, it's my mommy, my mama. It's her way of saying that she is here, that she is watching over me.
Last night, just after midnight, my youngest daughter couldn't wait, and she gave me my first birthday present, a figurine of Pooh holding Piglet. I told her about the Pooh to Piglet quote I have on my blog for Michaela. She wanted to know what it said, so I pulled it up and read it to her:
"If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together ... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart, I'll always be with you."My daughter got choked up over that, and I tried not to, because you are not supposed to cry on your birthday. In fact, I am still working on this right now....
When I read things like this, I always think of my children. I always think of those who it's my heart's job to take care of. I have never, ever before actually considered that it should also be for me. Not until this morning, when the bright, gleaming tower of the Golden Gate Bridge seemed to stand out like a message from my mother, because she knows I always look for her there, saying "I am here with you today, on your birthday, and always!" And I remembered these words.
When my mother was dying, I sat beside her bed in the hospital as she lay unconscious, her breathing raspy and labored. I'd made her passing difficult, I'm sure, by sitting there holding her hand, and covering it with tears for a couple of days. And I know she'd been worried about me, and how I'd be without her. She'd actually made a stab at trying to point out a substitute mother for me, something that I had to laugh at because it was so sad. So finally I knew I had to set her free. I took her hand and held it, and I whispered to her that I didn't want her to suffer any longer, that she didn't need to worry about me because she would always be here with me, in my heart, so if she needed to go, it was okay. It was less than five minutes after that I felt a change in the room, heard the silence, realized that her labored breathing had stopped. She had gone, but only with the promise that I'd keep her here with me always, in my heart, that I'd never feel alone or abandoned.
Okay, writing this on my birthday while I am trying not to cry was a really terrible idea. So let me slap myself a little and remember that the point of this whole thing is not that she is gone. It is that she is here, always, looking after me in the good times and in these very difficult times especially. She is touching my heart and reminding me that I am brave, I am strong. I can do it.
Happy Birthday to me, from my mommy, who loved me, who loves me forever. Thank you.