The photo above is the fireplace mantle in my bedroom. The elbow in the orange plaid belongs to my husband. The cards on the mantle are some of the bereavement cards I received after my mother passed away. I finally (very reluctantly) took down the Christmas lights that were strung across the mantle. I had a hard time letting go of Christmas this year. My mother passed away on Christmas Eve. In some strange way, keeping the lights up somehow made her not dead. But she is.
I knew I had to remove the Christmas lights from the mantles in both my bedroom and our parlor. The parlor is where we eat. It is the center of our 1880 Victorian home. Oak wood floors, curry yellow walls, my husband’s grandfather’s table that has seen generations of family meals, the cherry wood buffet with a pinkish marble counter top flanks the room on the southeast wall. My mother and I bought this buffet together at an antique flea market in Cheyenne called The Avenues. I loved that flea market. I used to go there with my mom all the time. She had a booth there. Betty (my mom) knew how to barter proper. She knew her antiques. I remember marveling at her when she would flip over a china dish or tea saucer and know exactly, right then and there, its value and worth. She would cross reference names and brands in her antique books.
I eyed the beautiful buffet, sliding my palm across the cool marble counter top. My mom smiled at me, aware of my interest. Immediately, without saying a word to her, she said, “Offer them $100 less, that you will pay cash, and that you will pick it up today.” The buffet was marked down. Betty followed with, “It’s marked down. The vendor wants to unload it.”
Shyly, I went to the counter where the owner of the flea market was sorting tickets — placing vendors’ sales tickets into piles. “Hi Betty,” she said to my mother. They launched into a short conversation about what my mom had sold that week in her booth, doling out names of antiques and flea market treasures like a diner waitress does to a well-known menu.
“$400 cash and I will pick it up,” I said awkwardly. Betty stood next to me, quiet.
“Let me call the vendor. What is the vendor number on the ticket?” the antique shop owner said. My mom jumped in with a name, as she knew all the flea market vendors at the Avenues. The Avenues was located on a curving turn that arched to a left, right across from the Cheyenne airport. I had taken this curvy turn hundreds of times, as it also is a turn that takes you to Cheyenne Frontier Days Park.
“The owner of the shop verified Betty’s hypothesis — Betty’s gut instinct. Yep, the vendor wanted to unload it. I just got a deal, I thought to myself. How I love a deal. That is one of the charms and alluring pulls of flea market antique shopping. Bartering is where you earn your flea market stripes. I had just earned my first. Don’t get me wrong, I was a garage sale barter champion. Heck, I would barter for a shoelace if I could. It just came natural.
I felt the rush of the bargain. We arranged a time to come pick it up with my husband. He had the truck. He had the muscles.
My mom had a confidence to her that was unmistakable. Most people felt very comfortable in her presence, unless you crossed her. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” she always said. Although she always gave people the benefit of the doubt. Her heart was large. Her laugh was larger. I miss it. I long for it. I wish I had her laugh recorded.
These lovely artifacts (antique books, trinkets, letters, objects) punctuated her life. They were just things when she was alive. Now that she is gone, they are maps of who she was. It is interesting what we take for granted when we have our loved ones live in the flesh and blood. When they are gone, physical objects sometimes act as sieves for our love for them., filtering the pain of the loss and acting as windows to transport us to memory — to love.
My mother’s ashes are on the mantle in the parlor. We are still waiting to hear from Arlington Cemetery on her funeral arrangements The mantle in the parlor was flanked by two Santas my mother had given me and that were present at childhood Christmases. Colored Christmas lights resembling brightly colored sugary balls — twisted, twined, and wrapped in fake garland — snaked along the mantle between the Santas and my mother’s urn. Well actually, the garland and lights rested over her walnut box urn since I was afraid if I put the garland behind the urn box, that somehow it would make the box fall to the floor.
I plugged in the lights every night after her death, sometimes leaving them on all day, well past traditional Christmas light season. It was my ritual. I would plug them in first thing in the morning and say my prayers and send my love to her. Sometimes I would weep at the mantle, longing for my mother’s words, embrace, smile, laugh. I talked to her sitting at our parlor table. I wept at the parlor table. At night, before I went to bed, I would unplug the lights and kiss the wooden box of ashes. I took down the lights last weekend and forced myself to take down the Santas that flanked both sides.
For some reason I can’t really explain, I knew it was time to take down the Christmas lights and Santas and embrace a new flower that is emerging from this loss. I am not saying I am hurting less, but the pain is less acute and more obtuse — surrounding me with its wide angle, enveloping me in sadness. A bud is emerging and flower petals are wrapped tight around the bud. Creating a cleaning space for my grief will provide the necessary sunshine to get the reluctant bud to open. The process of grief is not linear. I hopscotch back and forth between anger, denial, acceptance. I do realize my mother is somehow (beyond my understanding as a human on earth) with me, within me, and above me watching me grow and blossom.
I just will never be able to explain it nor completely understand it.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth II
“Grief changes shape, but it never ends.” – Keanu Reeves
The Girl Scout Promise
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.
“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” – Rudyard Kipling
“A mother is beyond any notion of a beginning. That’s what makes her a mother.” – Meghan O’Rourke
“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.” – Mother Teresa
“Never does one feel oneself so utterly helpless as in trying to speak comfort for great bereavement. I will not try it. Time is the only comforter for the loss of a mother.” – Jane Welsh Carlyle
“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” – Buddha
“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.” – Khalil Gibran
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving