Something Lost, Something Found

My mother died six years ago today, on the eve of Earth Day. She’s been gone a few weeks longer than the time I spent with her. In the interim, we’ve experienced a pandemic, a horrific presidency (and the terrifying threat of a repeat), a world and a country increasingly in chaos and crisis. And the sun keeps rising and the trillium faithfully blooms every spring. Time marches on, through beauty and ugliness, even in the absence of those who once filled our lives.

I won’t say I miss her everyday, that would be rewriting the truth, false sentimentality. Frankly, some days those six years felt like an eternity. But there is an empty space in the biosphere and in my heart she used to fill, and now those years with her feel like a flash. I walk into the kitchen and sometimes see her standing at the counter, back to me, legs widespread for stability, trying—sightless—to measure her oatmeal. The mirage is gone as quickly as it came. At a book talk, recently, someone asked if, in hindsight, I would spend those years with her if I could make the decision to do so again. “Yes,” I said, without hesitation. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And the best.”

She loved the trillium in the woods by our home. In the spring, I would try to get her onto the trail to look for them. She couldn’t see them, but she would point with her cane to the spots they would be when they arrived. She knew where they were by heart, as I used to say of a memorized piece on the piano; a kind of muscle memory. When she could no longer walk on the uneven ground, she started asking me in February if the trillium were up yet. She remembered where they were, but not when they bloom! 

Next month, the bright white trillium will turn pink then purple, then decay to the ground. Over winter the plant will work underground to reproduce for next spring. Meanwhile, the leaf buds in the forest are bursting out to replace that which departs.

Another spring phenomenon is the disappearance of the cotton candy/opal sunrises from my house (my friends have great descriptors), as the upper atmosphere warms. I miss them, but the tradeoff is earlier sun and warmth. Eventually, I can have coffee on the deck with the singing birds, rather than in the study with the electric fireplace.

Yet a further loss when spring arrives is the end of boot season. I love my boots, and I’m sad every year to put them away. But with the change of season came a month-long concentration on feet and ankles in yoga, which is my favorite. Elizabeth says our feet and ankles work hard for us. During boot season, we keep them encased and they don’t get much wiggle room. It’s time to set them free, and get them back in shape. So we’re twirling our ankles, massaging and stretching our feet, spreading our toes. I’m feeling the call of the trail.

Between hikes, I’m rebuilding my garden in the meadow. I built a gate for the fence my brother-in-law is helping me build. I’m pretty pleased with my (almost) 72-year-old self, both that I didn’t give up on the garden (yet) and for saying “I can” to the gate. You can read about the gate build on my blog (here). While I am pretty successful at living in the moment, and not looking too far ahead, I appreciate these days and months and—for now—years more fully, knowing that different times are just a few switchbacks in the trail away. And I will learn—hopefully—to accept different abilities.

My friend, writer Christina Baldwin, says the journey of elderhood is to refocus on what remains, while acknowledging what is lost. It’s a good goal, I think, in both nature’s seasons and the seasons of aging. Spring is both full and somehow, for me, a void. I grumble about the outdoor work that needs to be done, and rejoice in the fact that hiking season is here—at least where the snow pack is melted. I love the warm air and the emerging flowers, and miss the cozy fire in the fireplace. I rejoice in rediscovering my strength and my mojo, and want to stay in my father’s recliner under my lap robe. I miss my mother, and I’m glad to be free. I’m especially glad she is free.

What remains are new adventures. Some may be challenging, and we will find our way. I won’t say my mother accepted her losses with grace, or even that she always appreciated what she still could do, but she always found her way. 

 

How is your spring is shaping up? What’s on your mind? What has been lost, what has been gained? Leave a comment below.

🌿

“The world doesn’t need our despair—
it needs our love, kindness, and hope.”