The honor never ends

The Thinker by Rodin

There was no need to buy a Mother’s Day card this year. There was no mother to call on the phone today either. I am feeling a bit like Opus the penguin today. Maybe I should be spending $1.99 a minute on a Dial-a-Mom service. Nah, it would not be the same. Just as there is no place like home, there is no mother like your mother. One thing is for sure: my mother will not be opening any mother’s day cards this year. She passed away last November.

I do still have a mother in law, for which I am grateful. I am sure she is a terrific mother (although my wife might quibble) but she was of course not my mother. She came with the marriage and in the unlikely event that my marriage dissolves, she goes out with the marriage too. Moreover, unless I elect to travel 2500 miles to Phoenix, it is unlikely that I will see her. Nevertheless, I call her Mom. She seems to like it and it is an easy thing to do. I signed the card my wife picked out for her. As mothers in law go, she is better than most. Nevertheless, she is not my mother.

I do honor my wife on Mother’s Day, since she is the mother to our fabulous daughter. I usually buy my wife a card for Mother’s Day, and do her chores. Yet this year it skipped my mind, probably because I did not need to buy one for my mother. What my wife really wants for Mother’s Day is downtime and a foot rub at bedtime. That is easy enough to accommodate.

That is not to say that I did not honor my mother at all. Mother’s Day weekend is an appropriate time to pay a visit to her grave. My father and I contributed plenty of fresh flowers for the cistern on her grave. With luck, they may look good for a week or so. We actually did our duty a day early. The Saturday before Mother’s Day is a popular day at the cemetery, yet I suspect it will be even more jammed today. For a while there I felt we needed to take a number. My mother will have to forgive our flower arrangement. There were no women present to artfully arrange them. We did the best that two heterosexual men with engineering mentalities could do. I brought yellow tulips; yellow was my mother’s favorite color.

It is entirely possible that with my mother dead that she will “see” more of me now that when she was alive. When she was alive, she was hundreds of miles away, and not easily accessible by either airplane or car. At best, I visited her annually. Now her cremains are interred in the Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Visiting her grave means crossing the Potomac River, not the Appalachian Mountains. The cemetery is not too much out of my way when I go that way, so I suspect I should be able to pay my respects at least once a quarter. I will be one of many people helping to keep the floral industry in business.

In her last year of life, she seemed to want rest more than anything else, for her disease meant that sleep often alluded her. There is no doubt that her cremains will remain at rest. Yesterday was the exception. It was almost lively with all the visitors at the cemetery. Peace is one of the cemetery’s key attributes. If you like meditation, a cemetery seems an appropriate place to visit. It is a good place not only to pay your respects to loved ones, but also to contemplate your own mortality. It does not take too many minutes of contemplation though before further contemplation becomes challenging. When surrounded by death on all sides, all one can really say about death is that it is. It is beyond argument or dispute. Rather than be the creepy place imagined in horror movies, cemeteries are spots of utter tranquility in an otherwise restless world. If I craved tranquility in order to get some sleep, I suspect sleeping in a cemetery would have me sleeping like a baby.

Some part of me though does wonder why I go and pay my respects. Exactly who and what am I respecting? What is left of my mother is a box of ash a few feet underground. I am too secular to believe that her spirit hovers above my shoulders when I visit. Thus far visiting my mother’s grave has neither made me mourn nor feel wistful. However, I do feel a certain sense of the sacred with each visit. While my mother’s spirit may well still be around, it cannot be geographically located. Her grave though is a physical place where what is left of her physical body remains.

The meaning of my mother’s life, like birth and death, is shrouded in mystery. Like most mothers, my mother was a nurturer. She provided a foundation and an infrastructure that I took for granted growing up. With an adult perspective, I understand just how much her commitment to her children really meant. It meant giving up her future so we could have a future. It meant millions of carefully prepared meals, thousands of diaper changes, and hundreds of visits to the pediatrician and emergency room. It meant a clean house, laundered sheets, picnics, recitals, science fairs, movies and watching bad family television together on Friday nights. It also of course meant hugs, kisses and caresses. I gave her lots of “go power”. For twenty-five years or so, we largely consumed her life.

All this so many of us could raise similarly talented children with good values, so we could have interesting jobs, enriched lives and make our marks on the world. For all that to happen though she first had to be there for us. It was a Herculean effort, but one at which she met the challenge, not just for me, but also for my seven other siblings. She did it without so much as getting to put one contribution into her 401-K. Her rewards were to be intangible.

That is why I still honor her. For I was launched into this world on her mighty shoulders. I could now be miserable. I could now be impoverished. I could now be dysfunctional. Heck, I could now be dead too. That none of these things have happened I can largely attribute to my mother. That is why although she is not around she is still a daily presence in my life. No gift that I could give her could come close to what she gave me.

Thanks Mom. Rest assured that as long as I am alive, you will never be forgotten. There is no card for you this year, but I still honor you on Mother’s Day, and will every Mother’s Day for the rest of my life.

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