Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mama

Today is my mother's birthday.  She passed away unexpectedly three years ago.  Her death shook me to the core, and caused me to question everything I had ever believed.  I'm not sure why her death affected me in ways no other had, but I couldn't make sense of the fact that one day she was here, then she wasn't. 

I lived six hours away from her and never got to spend enough time with her.  I promised myself I would visit more often.  She couldn't visit me; she had spent the past seven years caring full-time for my sister, who was in a persistent vegetative state.  She insisted that she care for her at home, and only allowed my other sisters to take over for short periods of time.  She never wanted to inconvenience anybody. 

That was my mother.  She was truly the kindest, most generous person I've ever known.  She always thought of others, and not just the people she loved.  She tried to make everyone feel that they mattered.

She never had an easy life.  Both of her parents had died by the time she was 12, and she spent the remainder of her childhood in an orphanage.  From the few stories she told us over the years, it wasn't a happy existence.  But I never heard a word of self-pity from her about it.

Life as an adult wasn't any easier.  My parents didn't have a happy marriage, but she stayed with my father as long as she could, thinking it was best for her six children.  But when she learned my father had terminal brain cancer shortly after she had finally divorced him, she dropped everything to take care of him.  I wasn't surprised. 

She walked almost everywhere.  She was a bundle of energy, usually walking quickly to get where she needed to go.  She never learned to drive, although she wanted to.  She gave up the idea when she started having seizures in her late thirties.  We didn't know it at the time, but they were most likely a symptom of what eventually caused her death.

As I read over this I realize it sounds sappy, but I want to pay tribute to my mother on what would have been her 72nd birthday.  I've really only scratched the surface, but it's more than I could ever have said while she was alive. She was a very private person and without ego. 

The day before her funeral, as my family and I made the trip back to my hometown, I prayed that God would give me a sign that she was in His loving arms in Heaven.  I watched.  I waited.  I prayed some more.  Just a small sign, a budding flower perhaps (it was only February, but she loved to garden--what could be more perfect?)  Nothing.  I felt devastated.  My mother was gone, and now I felt God had abandoned me, too.

I never got the sign I wanted that year.  In my backyard, I have a small bed of rhododendrons that have never bloomed, surrounded by irises I transplanted from my mother's garden twenty years ago.  Nobody has ever really taken care of them.  My husband has moved them around several times, and had actually tried to get me to discard the sad little irises a time or two.  No, I'd always say, give them another chance.  The year after my mother died, I walked outside one spring morning to find this:

I like to think that first year in Heaven, my mother was busy getting reacquainted with loved ones and learning her way around.  Only when she'd had a little time to relax was she ready to come down and tend to my little patch of heaven.


  1. You had me in tears, I'm so sorry you lost your mom. I'm glad you have the flower garden to remember her by. I signed up to follow you. Shari (cricutrookie)

  2. Vanessa,
    I'm really enjoying your blog. this morning is the first time I came across it and have done nothing but sit and read about you and relate to a lot of what you are saying. I'm 52 yrs. old as well.
    In regards to the story about your mom giving you a sign, my dad died on Dec. 19 and I told my kids, then little, that I wished he would send a sign. Well, along came Feb. and right out of the snow and right in front of my mom's Blessed Mother statue, popped a bright red flower. His favorite color!! Flowers don't just grow in Michigan in February.
    Your mom sent you your sign, but she did it in God's time, not ours. So glad you had the experience!