I Won the Mom Lottery

Something I Noticed that Might Have Passed Me  By (2009)

It will be six years this summer since my mom died. The first three years sucked. The pain of losing her was intense and sharp and jagged. Like someone had twisted barbed wire all around my body and then told me to go on with life. I tried. And when the pain got too much I’d cry. It wasn’t pretty.

These weren’t soft delicate tears one could surreptitiously wipe from your eyes. These were huge sobs that rolled up from the bottom of my soul tearing up my whole shaking body leaving my face ravaged. Tears and snot rolling down my face- sometimes blotted by a tissue or a sleeve, sometimes not. And it happened everywhere- picking out red delicious apples in the produce section of the grocery store, in the middle of mass, or walking the aisles of a craft store. It was painful and often ugly since I did not let her “go gently into that good night.”

Anyway, here’s where I arrive at the part of the story about “something I noticed that might have passed me by.” For five years after the death of my mom I waited for a sign. My brother, Dan, received a sign from mom right away.  In fact, he told everyone about his sign at the lectern during her funeral- a shooting star on a cloudy night. My sister, Annie, got a sign- something about a street light flickering on and off in some mysterious way…blah blah blah.

Do I sound jealous and petty? Because I remember feeling it at the time, so even though it embarrasses me now, it’s the way it was. I wasn’t getting my sign in everyday life, so since my mom loved the beach and the ocean, I got it set in my mind that she’d give me my sign there. We’ve managed for the past five years to go to the beach one week each summer. No pressure, mom, but now you have a one week time frame for this sign that seems so all-important…

The first summer I stand in the hot August sun, sunglasses and a baseball cap shielding my eyes and face from the bright glare. I can feel the warmth of the sun heat through all the layers of me- until even my bones felt warm. It feels good. My toes sink further into the wet sand with each surging wave lapping over my bare feet. I search the ocean out past where the waves start their roll, but not as far as the horizon. Really search. Scanning my eyes left to right and then back again.

“Mama, what are you doing?” my daughter Dani asks when she joins me. She is nine years old. “I’m looking for my sign from Nana,” I said. “Aunt Annie got a sign. Uncle Dan got a sign. I’m looking for my sign. I want to make sure I notice it and it doesn’t pass me by.”

I feel her slip her small hand into mine and together we stand looking out at the ocean. Waiting and searching. I remember the feeling of the ocean breeze softly brushing over us trying to knock off my hat. I tell Dani I think my sign will be something dramatic like a whale breaching out of the water just before the horizon. I feel her long blond hair blow across my arm as she turns her head to look up at me. I tell her that’s how much I miss Nana, and she says, “Me, too. I miss her bigger than a whale, too.” She stays the course with me as we
continue to look. No whale throws itself into the air for me.

Later in the day, as I’m pulling out the very picnic lunch we used to take to the beach when I was a little girl- when my mom was still here- egg salad sandwiches and coconut macaroons, I hear Dani scream, “Mama, mama! Your sign. Look!” I look up in time to see three black shiny dolphins arc out of the water only to disappear.

Dani comes running up from the ocean so happy for me, “Mama!” I tell her I don’t think that’s my sign because, you see, dolphins jump out of the water all the time. We’re both disappointed and end our week at the beach that year with no sign from my mom.

The second year, a blue plastic watch with a Velcro wristband washes up at my feet. There is water and sand floating inside the face like a snow globe. It’s still running. Is this my sign? Is mom trying to tell me it’s “time” to move on past the sadness. The sadness is still there sticking pins in me every day. I decide this isn’t my sign.

The third year, a twenty dollar bill washes up at my feet. Is this my sign I’m supposed to notice? What could she be saying…this is the cost of loving? The price you pay? You can’t put a price on love? This is too confusing and I
decide this isn’t my sign either.

The fourth year, a starfish washes over my feet and into a little wave-made pool. It’s the prettiest color of soft pink and so delicate and small that it doesn’t cover the palm of my hand. A perfect sign? I dump out the shells in my clear plastic cup and put the starfish in. That’s when I realize it isn’t dead; it suctions to the side of the cup, so I fill the cup with water and head back. If this starfish is alive, I can’t keep it or it’ll die. And then every time I look at the beauty of it- I’d feel guilty knowing I had killed it. Maybe it was sick, and that’s why it washed up on shore?
I decide if it’s still alive the next day, I’ll put it back in the ocean. If it’s dead in the morning, I’ll keep it and it will finally be my sign. It was not my sign. Dani said some baby starfish was very happy.

Last year, I noticed something that might have passed me by. I was walking the beach early one morning and had finally arrived at a place of healing and of appreciation. The brutal, knife-sharp pain of my mother’s death had passed and now it was moments and memories flitting in here or slipping in there that made me miss her.

Mostly though, I appreciated how lucky I was to have had such a wonderful person in my life. I was at a stage where I could count my blessings and as I walked along the water’s edge shell after shell arrived at my feet. A new one with each step, all within thirty seconds of each other, and each one shaped like a heart. Five heart-shaped shells that I treasure to this day.

Was this my sign? After five long years? The funny thing is I could almost hear my mom laughingly say, “Lee, you always were high maintenance; I should’ve gone with the whale the first year.”

So, if you’re thinking the something I noticed that might have passed me by is my sign- you’d be wrong. What I noticed that might have passed me by was that I was finally whole again. And though I still miss my mom, there is so much of her inside of me and my children that she is never really gone from my life. I’m a lucky, lucky
I love you, mom. And I miss you.
Posted in Heartstrings.