my mother, with her firstborn Nan inside her
Do most people believe in ghosts? I think they do, if by ‘ghost’ we mean that sudden sensed presence of one now departed. In fact, show me the person who claims never to have had this experience; never to have ‘heard from’ such a one.
I know I did, once. Only once, but I ‘heard’ all right. It happened about three months after I lost my mother, who died very suddenly, right before my eyes.
She was 80 and I was 38 and still a child myself in some ways. All I knew was that living my life without her seemed impossible; she was still that much of a parent to me.
She had a pragmatic kind of sense that she expressed with a wonderful bluntness.
Take the time I called to tell her we’d be welcoming a 19-year-old Austrian girl into our home to help care for our baby while the older children were in school, she laughed right out loud.
“Great! Now you’ll have FOUR kids!” she said, and come to think of it she was right about that. I felt such tenderness for this sweet young woman, so far from her home in the Alps, that my ‘office hours’ as a listening mom never ended. A full 90 minutes after I was supposed to be at church for choir practice, say, I’d still be sitting on the front hall stairs with one of them, whether the seven-year-old, or the nine-year-old, or the 19-year-old, listening, listening, car keys dangling in one hand – ‘til it got so late I knew the only lights on at church would be the outdoor ones illuminating the steeple.
She was pretty frail by then and she could hardly see, but she weighed in on things just the same.
“An aging actor in the White House?” was one tart remark from the spring of 1980.
Another: “Cookies IN the ice cream? Isn’t that going a bit far?”
Every week I would drive the 20 miles to my childhood home to see her and if I was ever delayed because of a deadline she’d be equally frank.
“Just write anything!” she would cheerily say on those occasions, even knowing that the wonky, stay-up-all-night-doing-homework daughter she had raised could never do a thing like that.
She loved to laugh. here she is the day she came home from the hospital with a broken hip that would keep her out of work for a month. Still smiling, as you can see.
Twenty years after, with Nan beside her
Eventually, she moved to a wonderful assisted living facility in my town – and brought her renegade ways with her: Once during a fire drill there, with sirens blasting, she buttonholed her best pal Alice, who was obediently caning her way toward the elevator. “Never mind that nonsense!” Mom told her with a wink. “Come, we’ll hide in my room here, and have some sherry!”
Ah, she was something. And what a hole her passing left in my life. In the weeks after it, I listened for her on every frequency I could think of. Where WAS she?
I heard nothing for months. And then I had this dream:
In it, she and I were descending a wide flight of stairs; kind of sprinting down them, in fact, with that galloping rhythm you develop when you do that.
I suddenly realized what was happening. “Mom you’re RUNNING!” I said.
“I know, isn’t it great? I’m not old anymore!” she said back.
And that was the dream. It lasted maybe two seconds.
Still, it comforted me.
And in these weeks with so much stirring and returning to life, the thoughts of powers beyond our ken? Well, those thoughts comfort me still.
and twenty years after that, as Nan looks upon her face one final time