. . . I would be served well to remember this feeling, all the subtle moments of Awe! Victoria Day
My ninety-three year old mother died a year ago on Super Bowl Sunday. While the Giants battled it out with my mother’s New England Patriots, while Madonna, at half-time, sang her heart out, my mother lay in her nursing home bed, her hair freshly combed by my cousin, Diana, her hands still warm from my brother’s evening visit. And I wonder if she heard it, the cheers of the crowds as the men barreled across the field, the way Madonna lifted herself above those crowds and sang, “Like a Prayer.” “Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone. I hear you call my name. And it feels like home.” Was it like an angel sighing for my mother to hear Madonna sing those words? And did she feel herself lifted above the crowds in the hour or so before her body’s dying? I don’t know what it was like for her in those last moments of body life; I wasn’t there. I was thirteen hundred miles away at my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But I think she might have shared with me a glimpse of what she was seeing during that Super Bowl weekend of slipping in and out of consciousness.
I knew when I left Maine earlier that week that I might not see my mother in body-form again. And as wrenching as the decision was to fly back home, I knew it was okay to go, to let my mother go. And that weekend, the weekend of Super Bowl 2012, after listening to my brother’s update that Mom was slipping away, it was all I could do to stay present in my body, here in Michigan, and not slip away from my own present moments. It was skiing that became my savior. I skied my heart out, two days in a row; for hours, I skate-skied along the Noquemenon Trail, from the trailhead at Forestville, up up up the hills, fourteen or so kilometers to County Road 510, and then back down the hills again. I skied past the creeks with their running water, past the wolf tracks that led deep into the woods; I skied past hemlock and birch trees and the mighty white pines. I skied all day, life-affirming hour after hour of being present with my arms and my legs and my heart, present with my heart that was breaking wide open. And it’s hard to feel sad when you’re skiing like that, flying through those northern woods that you love.
And there was so much to love that weekend out there in those woods, so much to carry me forward, moment to moment. It was mid-day, both Saturday and Sunday, when I pushed off onto the trail, and late afternoon before I arrived at County Road 510, so as I skated and skimmed back down the hills, the fourteen or so kilometers back toward my car, the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky. And when I arrived at the creek and the hemlock forest it was as though the world was coated in shimmering gold; it was as though I was swimming through a forest of golden light, as though I was skate-skiing through a golden sea, two days in a row, through a shimmering sea and onward to the patch of planted jack pines, and that’s when the sky began to do things I’d never seen before. For the last hour of the ski, on both days, as the full moon floated up above the trees and into the sky, my gaze also turned upward. I couldn’t help it. It was a show that I will never forget. Clouds, more vivid, more delicious, more touchable, transformed themselves, as I skied along, from a soft creamy-peach, to a flaming fiery fuchsia that ignited the whole forested horizon, and, then, as if on cue, they changed again, this time to a gorgeous plum-like purple, and the sky behind the purple was the deepest, the most true of blues, the blue of my mother’s eyes. And I knew, in those moments, I just knew that I was seeing the world through her eyes, and I was over-the-moon and I was up in those clouds and I was present in my body on the trail and I was filled to the brim with appreciation.
It was the kick-off, those hours and hours of skate-skiing through the wintry woods during the weekend of Super Bowl 2012; it was the initiation for me into a whole new ball game of how to be with my mother. Someone asked me, this week of Super Bowl 2013, if I miss her. And I had to really think about it. Sure there was the time during the hurricane last fall when I wanted the flesh and blood version of a mother and I wanted her in the cottage that she lived in all those years, the one that is no longer standing on its flesh and blood legs. I wanted to call her on the telephone, on a real telephone made of matter and I wanted her to pick up the phone and talk to me with real words; I wanted her to tell me about that storm at her doorstep in her voice, the voice that I used to know. I missed her. But that doesn’t happen often. It really doesn’t. In this new way of being together, I don’t have to pick up a phone or fly to Maine to make contact. I can find her anywhere and I do. I find her when I traipse through the woods that I love, when I sail down a hill on my skis and a breeze, fresh and cold, kisses my face. I find her when an eagle, wide-winged, lifts off in front of me, right in front of me. I find her in the sudden shock of a red cardinal landing in the winter pine by the feeder. I find her when I hold my grandson, and feel her hands, her new subtle hands, on my shoulders. I find her in the classical music that she loved, in the words that flow from my pen. I just have to think about her and she shows up for me.
During the weekend of Super Bowl 2013, it happened in my living room. All of a sudden, as I was puttering about, she popped into my mind. “Mom,” I said out loud in this new game I often play, “Make yourself known to me!” And at that moment, the moment that I said the words, my head turned over toward the window and the lamp that stands by the chair, and I saw it. The bird, a shiny hand-painted glass ornament-bird, perched on top of the lamp’s shade, the bird gleaming in the morning light, the bird that I had not noticed before. I have no idea how that bird found its way to its lampshade perch, and neither does Cam. I’m thinking that one of the kids must have stuck it there weeks ago over the holidays. And, in that moment, it didn’t matter. It was a gift from my mother, from my mother who showers me with such gifts all the time.