|Family album: Mom pregnant and my smiling baby self.|
What was it like... that moment when I was born?
“You were a tiny and perfect thing. I don’t remember much of anything... the pains of labour, the delivery room, the fussing of nurses... anything except that long intense look we shared when they first put you at my breast. Your eyes were open and you were so calm, I could see every part of who you would become in that gaze. A circus could have tumbled through the room, a herd of purple elephants, and I wouldn’t have noticed, I was so locked in that intense, sweet stare.”
I didn’t cry?
“Oh, I suppose you did... a tiny mewling like a kitten. It was your open searching eyes I remember most. And your long fingers. Much later in the night, after everyone left... your father, your grandparents, your ‘big’ brother who wasn't even out of diapers... the nurses brought you to me, bathed and swaddled. Alone for the first time with you, I slowly unwrapped the swaddling blankets and checked out every part of your small perfection. Those long fingers! You were a ballerina, a piano player, a sculptor... I envisioned so many lives for you in those very first hours after you were born. You nursed easily, but always seemed more interested in searching my face than suckling. I felt that, with those small dark eyes, you could see my everything.”
“And what was it like... that moment when I died?”
It was late at night, that darkest and most quiet hour, and I was alone with you. All evening, I had been talking to you, singing to you, washing your face, combing your hair. I let your hair down, something you rarely did. Later, I realized that these were small rituals, preparations. Your breathing had changed and I asked the young nurse if you were in pain and she said, ‘no, just part of the process’. After some time it was as though I could hear you saying, perhaps a little exasperated: “Oh lie down, Tam, stop fussing and just lie down and let’s get some sleep”. Only you could call me Tam and get away with it. I lay beside you on the small fold out cot and listened to your breathing and the music I had put on. The music was Ukrainian lullabies, which included that particular lullaby you sang to us when we were babies, the one you requested us to play at your funeral. Your strange breathing soothed me, the music lulled me and I dozed. After a short time, maybe half an hour, the music and your breathing stopped and I woke quickly to a great silence. A stillness.
“I didn’t cry?”
No... there had been enough tears, crying, anger, despair in the days, the weeks, the few short months before. But in that still night when you allowed yourself to succumb to the terrible illness that is cancer, there was a dignity and quiet peace. Just after your breathing stopped, I crawled in the bed next to you, again a small child, and I laid my head on your breast. I held you and smoothed your hair and kissed the laughing creases around your eyes. You had been so unafraid of dying, and showed me, in one final lesson, how to be that brave.
After some time, I went to the nurse and said simply, “My Mother is gone” and then I paused, remembering, and said “it’s Mother’s Day”. She gave me a shared sad smile. “My Mom knew how to make the most of any occasion” I said. And you did.
Happy Mother’s Day
|Rare photo from the 70's: Mom with her hair down.|
I would always call my Mother and say “Happy Hallmark Day”... that was our joke. A special day created by card companies and florists to market and make money from all that human sentimentality... we poked fun of it in our own way. And how could I send her flowers? There was no florist on that small island where she lived. And, in her later years, she WAS the flower lady, the grower and maker of fine bouquets. The typical 2-3 hour long phone call that would be our celebration of each other, of mothering, and the labours of women. And so it goes, just a she laboured me into this world, I peacefully laboured her out... women’s work? Perhaps. Maybe losing her like that, on Mother’s Day, was her gift to me... I was honoured to be at her side.
|Preparing to pin the quilt on the kitchen floor.|
|Nervously starting to machine quilt, squish and flatten!|
I have, tentatively at first, begun to machine quilt my memory quilt. It started out as this unwieldy and enormous beast and I wasn’t sure how I would manage it, especially with my small machine. I did a lot of practicing on small bits of quilted fabric, met with the women at a local quilting store: The Workroom, and bugged my quilting friends for advice. My fingers bled as I pinned it together, one little pin every square five inches, 200 or so pins. Ouch!
The quilt is like a large sail. It has weight and enfolds me as I work with it. Sailing... I am sailing away with it now... taking my time and enjoying it. Tips from the internet, there’s so much advice, I loved this video especially. Squish, squish, flatten! After much experimentation, I decided to start with a straight stitch along the striped rows between the t-shirt blocks... well, almost straight... just the little curve of the wind in this newbie quilter's sail.
I have also managed to sew and then carefully tear out great lengths of stitching. I guess a part of me doesn’t want the quilting to end. It is so good to be enveloped by this fabric of our lives.
It has been a hard, rotten kind of year. Death and broken bones and the push of time.
Pushy time, healing time, time to really stop and smell the flowers. I have come back to my Mother’s garden on this anniversary of her death... my first motherless Mother's Day. The purple tulips that we laid on her casket have returned. The peonies and the poppies are lush. Spring, renewal, regrowth, and a whisper of the flower lady’s eternal spirit through the cedars.