Friday, November 28, 2014

broken promise ... fulfilled dream

It is the day after Thanksgiving and I am electing to enjoy a welcome quiet along with a return to Autumn's gentle warmth and sunshine. The Husband and Cowgirl are out raking leaves. The bulk of the holiday's accoutrements - the good china, silverware, serving dishes -  have been cleaned and put away.  I finished clearing out my mother's apartment over a week ago and there is little that demands my immediate attention. 

Except for the ironing. 

And that, I believe, is the only promise my mother ever made to me and broke.

Last year we hosted the big family Thanksgiving. Surveying the damage to my grandmother's table linens - cranberry sauce, red wine, coffee and gravy stains evidence of a good and rich meal - I decided to utilize the services of a professional cleaners.  After picking up the cleaned goods, I called my mother immediately from my car. Such was my shock at the cost of an elite cleaning service.  She too was stunned by the price (more than a dinner out at a nice restaurant, slightly less than the cost of my cowboy boots from the Tractor Supply Store) and she told me then "Next time I will wash and iron them for you."

So today I faced a new pile of dirty table linens and I knew This now is mine. 

I have to admit, there is something soothing about ironing. Growing up, the iron board was always at the ready in our basement.  As a child, my chore was ironing pillow cases and dish cloths.  I tried to enlist Cowgirl's assistance."This was my job when I was a little girl." She just laughed at me and then tried the logic "I could burn my fingers" before running off to join her father in the leaf raking.

And that is how I came to spent an hour and a half engaged in the domestic form of meditation known as ironing. 

The tablecloth was the hardest, it being so big and unwieldy to novice hands. I could hear my mother's voice "I'm sorry Lisa."  She took her promises seriously. Yet ironing was the perfect task for me now that so many tasks have been completed.  It gave me the time for my head to synch up with my heart.

What I am discovering in this process of grieving my mother is opportunity to grieve - which really is the flip side to celebrating - the many women who have mothered me throughout my life.  For my mother was not only a very good mother, she was also a really good friend. 

As I sift through old photographs, I am remembering all my aunties: my godmother (self-proclaimed fairy godmother, and she was), the older neighbor who was a mentor to my mother, and all the friends whose homes were second homes to myself and my family. One of the hardest tasks has been to contact the surviving friends of my mother - there are only a handful left - to inform them of her death. After the stunned silence, stories follow about what fun they had together and how my mother was always there for them.

 Her friends all commented upon my mother's beautiful singing voice. If she had a secret dream, I would guess it would have been to be a professional singer.  My mother loved to sing and she knew the words to all the old songs. 

But I cannot remember my mother ever expressing an unfulfilled ambition or dream.  Rather than dwelling upon what she hadn't done, she focused upon what she had accomplished.  "I've lived a good life," she shared with me on what was her last day.  "I did pretty good for a kid who only had one pair of shoes."  And she did.  She traveled the world, she read any book she could get her hands upon, she loved history, art, movies and music. She shared and nurtured that love with me.

My mother did not have a career outside the home.  She was not a professional; she was not an entrepreneur or a ground-shaker; she was independent but she was not interested in changing the world so much as experiencing it. If anything, my  mother was an artist.  Her talent was with a needle and thread, although she excelled at creative cookery honed through years of scrimping and saving. She poured her love and attention into her family and her friends. I cannot imagine a more noble accomplishment: good friend, good mother. She was both to me. 

Just today I read "Grief is love turned inside out."  For me, there is this experience of all that I've known and loved being shaken out of me, spread out and visible with new insights and deep truths revealed. As I reflect upon all the angst and anxiety I've generated in my search for meaning "What do I want to be when I grow up?" and "What purpose am I meant to serve?" I see clearly what my mother's gift was and has always been: be present, be love. 

So today as I finish the ironing, I sing out the names of all my aunties who loved my mother and by extension, loved me.  I am grateful for the nurturing circle of women my mother gathered around me and I am grateful for the continuing spiral of friends who are my extended family.  I know my mother's love lives on as long as I stand in that circle, adding and receiving love to that flow. 

If there was one thing my mother would have been happy I shared, it would be the photos from her glamor days.

My mom was beautiful inside ... and out. She fulfilled the important promises, the ones worth keeping. 


  1. These are beautiful and powerful images and memories you re feeling and sharing. I always think the initial stages more than any other in grief are like a patchwork quilt-appropriate since you mother sewed- and that each memory brings new sensations, afterthought, and get stiched together-in the end it covers you.

  2. this is, by far, the most moving tribute to any person that i've ever read. that it's to your mom, makes me all kinds of throat-lumpy. and for the message -- the gift of her -- that she simply went about and *did*....well, it's a timely reminder for me as i grapple with my own sense of meaning and purpose.

    why don't they do photos like those anymore? your mom was a!

    thank you, once again, miz Lisa -- for the gift of *you*...for your thoughts and wanderings and complete and utter transparency. i think your mom will be most pleased to see you carrying on her legacy of presence and love.


  3. It has been four months since I said good-bye to my Mom and I've tried not to look at photos too long, as I cry all over again. I will tell you it was tough to give you a hug recently Lis' as it brought it all back. This post too brings it back - but it feels differently. It feels good. It is warm. Maybe it's the iron talking.

    The images are great. So much shown in each snapshot.

    Our Moms were clearly similar.
    Appreciated most in the latter years, convincing that they "had a good life", and beyond beloved.

    My Mom's name was Alma. She loved candy. I had found a candy purveyor named Alma chocolate and had to order some just so she could have a box with her name on it. When I went to the website, I found a lovely description of her name: ALMA (al 'ma) 1. n. Soul (Spanish); 2. v. To nourish (Latin).

    Be strong Lis'. Hang in. Move forward.
    Laugh and smile more than cry. Hugs to you. Hugs.

  4. What a beautiful and emotional post. Thanks for sharing it.

    Sending love&light to you


  5. I agree with Mel. I too believe this is the most moving, heart-felt tribute I've ever read. It inspires me to appreciate what is and focus on my true purpose, especially as Mom. I love it! Thank you for helping so many with your love and your words. I also like what Katherine said: "each memory brings new sensations, afterthought, and get stitched together-in the end it covers you." xoxo

  6. either i've left ten comments or i've left none. third time's a charm. (feel free to delete any duplicates)

    Only three things matter in the long windedness of my reply.

    One, I love you and miss you deeply. Two, thank you so much for sharing Her with us. This is one of the most exquisite pieces of writing I have ever had the pleasure to read. And three my new mantra: Be Present Be Love. Good Friend. Good Mother is my new mantra. Three and a half, this line made me feel so seen and known I blubbered tears so big I couldn't read anymore: "she was not interested in changing the world so much as experiencing it."

    Thank you for sharing yourself and her. I love you.

  7. You have me choked up with tears as I read the beautiful words you share about your mother Lisa. You have such a gift of merging the heart, emotions and memories together. Beautiful. xoxo

  8. I couldn't help but link to you from my most recent blog post. I hope you don't mind: I used only the title of this post and the title of your blog so that others could read your beautiful words. Namaste'

  9. Yes, thank you for sharing your beautiful mother and your "love turned inside out". As always you are astoundingly inspirational and incredible. Thank you! xoxo