This weekend is so lovely.
It’s my first Memorial Day weekend that I haven’t had to work in my adult life. I’ve got two great little kiddos who are begging me for the outside time we all love. The worst of the yard work is complete so afternoons and days aren’t completely lost on back-breaking work.
And that sun, that air.
I’ve felt it before.
20 years ago, my Memorial Day futures were tarnished.
I went to school on the last day before a long weekend at the end of fourth grade and my sick mom was especially weak. She couldn’t get out of bed that morning and spent such a long time with her goodbyes and handholding I thought for sure I was going to miss my bus. I was 10 and she was 46. I pulled myself away to join my friends in the school bus stop out front.
I wonder if she pulled herself out of bed to look out the window. I never looked up to see.
I don’t know if she cried or if she wore a brave face.
I don’t know when she called her sister.
I don’t know if she knew in that moment the truth about Memorial Day.
We try to remember, we sometimes forget.
I never saw my Mommy again.
I came home that afternoon and saw cars in the driveway that meant she was in the hospital.
I stopped at the second-from-the-top step with a sigh. I was so sad I’d spend another weekend visiting her while she lay in a hospital bed. I was so sad for my Dad and the way he looked at her picture on the dresser the mornings she wasn’t home to cook me breakfast.
I was mad, too. That moment was my first memory of rage. I stomped my foot on the sidewalk. I HATE THAT YOU’RE ALWAYS SICK, I wanted to scream.
I saw my first rainbow that weekend.
It was her goodbye perhaps.
By the end of the long weekend, I came home from a friend’s house to find my Dad sitting on my bed in our apartment, crying while holding stuffed animals. I had never seen him cry. We were supposed to see Mommy in just an hour.
I don’t remember how he told me she was gone.
I just remember feeling like I had to be a Mommy to him.
We held hands and took a walk down the road.
By the end of that long weekend, I stood in front of her open casket in a stuffy funeral home, torn between playing tag with some cousins and this nagging feeling that this was something so big. I couldn’t grasp it with my 10-year-old heart just yet.
On a warm, sunny, slightly windy day, they lowered the box into the ground.
I left school five days before with a sick mom at home.
And that first day back, on a bus for a field trip.
Charlie in my class chose that day to remember my mom was born on Leap Year. She’s only like 11!, he said!
I sunk down in my seat and hated Memorial Day weekend. And field trips. And boys named Charlie.
I’ve spent two-thirds of my life without her.
I relate better to being motherless than being mothered.
I’ve spent nearly four years being a mother myself.
And this quandary I find myself in is as complicated and confusing as it gets.
I look at old pictures of her and me and now my eyes just as easily land on the resemblance of my daughter to me as anything else.
There is hurt and peace and anger and love and they come and go in waves and go ’round and ’round in cycles I can never predict.
There are Memorial Days that cause my heart to ache and others that go by quickly and busily with little thought. But May 26th still makes me stop in my tracks. Can’t catch my breath. Can’t believe it all over again and again and again.
There are purple and yellow flowers scattered across our better-loved yard now. I hope she likes them.
I hope she watches her grandchildren. I hope she comforts them when I cannot.
I am 30. She would have been 66. A grandma of two. a mother-in-law to Scott.
Would she be on FaceBook? Still send out those long handwritten letters in the violet ink? Maybe a call once a week.
I look to the sky. For her rainbows and that sunny end-of-May warmth.
I run my hands in the earth of my gardens and sing to sleepy toddlers and feel her arms around me again.
I remember but I also forget.
And I miss her just as much 20 years later.
Nancy Carole Dowhan
Feb. 29, 1948 — May 26, 1994