My mother died March 7, 1975, on her 45th birthday. She died a month before the arrival of my oldest daughter.
Mother's death and my daughter's birth created a sharp before-and-after demarcation in my life. Before was when Mother was still alive. After, I had my baby to take up all my thoughts and provide motivation to move forward. I loved to imagine what Mother would have thought of her, but I had no sad images in my mind of my declining mother holding my baby, connecting that before life with the after one.
In an odd way, that demarcation eased my grief. At least, I thought it did.
I smiled when I remembered the way Mother would get the giggles at the most inappropriate times. One of those times was sitting in our accustomed pew at Seventh Street Baptist Church during the only communion service I could remember us celebrating. All of us were agog at the ceremony of it, a little unsure of what we were supposed to do. Just as the communion tray of purple grape juice was passed down our pew, a child in a nearby pew burped.
That burp in the midst of the solemn ceremony startled Mother into a fit of giggling. The harder she tried to stop, the more she giggled. We filled an entire pew with giggling people, with the possible exception of my brother Mike, who was the epitome of decorous behavior. Mother was laughing about the burp just as the grape juice arrived. The rest of us were laughing at her helpless laughter.
I remember Mother singing. She sang "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. I remember her laughing with her six siblings, especially her beloved younger sister.
We had no money for entertainment, but she and Dad found entertainment on their own. Dad would put "Little Brown Jug" on the stereo and entice her into jitterbugging. Dad and Mom packed all four of us into the back seat and drove to Dryden's in downtown Groves to people watch. They gossiped about the people walking past the car, which infuriated me. Laughing at other people, even in the privacy of our car, scandalized me.
Mother baked chocolate cake in the middle of the night, when she was guaranteed that she could eat in peace, drinking her coffee and perhaps reading. I learned to wake to the smell of chocolate baking. She sometimes let me, the oldest and probably the quietest, join her. I'm still a chocoholic.
No, Mother was not always the sick and solemn version of herself, dealing with her impending death with as much faith and grace as she could muster. I remembered those earlier times, glad that I could recall for my younger siblings the real person she was before her cancer diagnosis, a person with quirks and foibles.
However, I sometimes wondered why I wasn't grieving as much as I thought I ought to be. Was I deficient in feeling somehow, too quick to relegate Mother to funny or wistful stories? I always consoled myself that it was just that clean demarcation that had made my adjustment easier.
A second daughter followed our first. Two decades passed. My daughters grew into young women. I finally got my degree and started writing books.
It was about my third book, I think, when I made a startling realization. My female protagonists almost always had absent mothers, mothers not there mentally or physically. Sometimes, their mothers were depressed and unavailable.
Most often, their mothers had died.
Yes, Mother, I did feel your absence in my life. I kept writing your absence into my books. I'm still doing it. In the book I've just finished writing, both the protagonist and her stepdaughter have lost their mothers. I can't seem to write a present mother into my books.