I realized again recently, as I often do while reading, how very fond I am of words. Words like keening and demonstrative and integrity. Funny-sounding ones too like obsequious and persnickety, helicopter and perspicacious.
I read my friend’s first novel, Always Gardenia. Author Betsy Hanson had arranged her words exquisitely so that people previously unbeknownst to me sprang to life on the pages—Arn and wee little Milo along with Gardenia. Betsy set them down in Seattle and let them dance at the Swedish Club and at Century Ballroom. I closed the book after the last page and reluctantly let these vivid characters return to the ether. I would never know for certain what was next in their lives.
It was the perfect time to read about pretend people just before my real kin showed up in town. My mother turned 90 and her siblings plus the remaining spouses came from Virginia, Arizona and Florida to honor her. And of course we three daughters were here. Some of her nieces and nephews (my cousins) and their kids came too.
Luckily our daughter Carolina is living nearby, actually in our basement between house-sitting gigs. She had only let me do so much planning for this grand event—reserve spots on the day cruise, order pizzas, buy birthday cake at Costco, the list goes on. I know, I know that sounds like a lot of arrangements, doesn’t it? What can I say? Organizing and convening, I enjoy it.
Finally Carolina in her euphemistic wisdom had advised, “No more details, Mom. Let the River take us beyond this wherever it wants to go.” She was right. I had to leave space for others to add themselves to the mix anyway, negotiating eddies and rapids together.
We did have a great memorable time. And after the long weekend I received word soon enough that everyone had returned home-sweet-home safely.
Now it’s Mother’s Day weekend and I’m reflecting. I witnessed likely the last good-byes between old venerable sisters who live across the continent from each other—Mom and Aunt Dot. For most of this story, I have used words so far, trying to describe a meaningful few days in a relatively precise realistic way. But now as I begin to consider the end-times of these cherished elders, I can’t help but shift to metaphor—using phrases in a way that is not literally applicable.
As I speak of these dear ones’ glide slopes, I find comfort imagining that this love we kindled on the living plane will be enough to cradle them until they cross over. We will figure out how to hold them well until they slip into the arms of their beloved husbands who passed away first. It seems silly to speak in these terms but then again I am borrowing the explanations and poetry of philosophers and theologians of yore.
No wonder religions have sprung up over the centuries from our rich and varied cultures. How else could we bear to face this great mystery of death?