Thursday, May 29, 2008
Day of Remembrance
Forty-eight years ago today, my mother died in a head on collision on a lonely two lane stretch of road near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It was a few minutes before midnight.
I was ten years old.
I don't remember much about my mother other than the vignettes that older family members have passed on. She was very young. Only thirty-one. At the time, of course, I didn't realize how very young she was--how much of life she missed.
Because my mother was a very well respected woman, very popular with her peers and because she was a minister's wife, people came from all over the state of Arizona for her funeral. It was a standing-room-only funeral held in the blazing heat of the Sun Valley on the first day of June. After the service, we drove in a long mournful snake of cars about thirty minutes to reach the cemetery where there was another brief service.
Then we went back to my grandparents' home where there seemed to be a million people. Some were relatives from Oklahoma. Some were from further away than that...Indiana, Texas. In a little while we changed to comfortable traveling clothes so that we could drive back to New Mexico. We had been in the actual process of moving from Arizona to Indiana. There were many things to deal with regarding our household goods back in New Mexico.
On the way out of town we stopped at the cemetery again. I remember taking some of the fancy ribbon bows from the flower arrangements heaped over her grave. I had pieces of those tattered ribbons for quite a few years. That was pretty much all I had of my mother. I remember that to this day, I really can't stand gladiolas though they are beautiful flowers.
The next few weeks were pretty hard. My younger brothers and I were like lost lambs, not quite sure what to do next. They didn't have grief counselors back then. Actually, the general attitude was that we should "buck up" and "get over it."
What no one knew...what I carried around as a guilty secret for years and years was that I knew it was my fault that my mother died. The day she died, one of my brothers did something that I was blamed for and I was punished. I didn't generally mind being punished for something I did, but this miscarriage of justice outraged me. On that day I discovered that my mother was not infallible. And I lashed out with the only power I had... words.
I remember very clearly standing out in our dusty yard dotted with prickly pear and other cactus plants and screaming, "I hate you! I wish you were dead!"
A few hours later she was gone.
In the convoluted way that children reason, of course it was my fault. Why else would she be dead? God didn't take good people away for nothing.
It was a very long time before I was finally old enough to work through the past baggage. And eventually I did. But on that hot sunny day forty-eight years ago, I learned a valuable lesson that I've never forgotten. Maybe it was the last lesson I learned from my mother.
Never say anything in anger. Wait. Think about what you say. You may not ever have the opportunity to take back words said in anger.
So on this day of remembrance, I say publicly, "I'm sorry. I love you. I miss you. I didn't do nearly as good a job as you did in your short time."