The First Summer

Dear Mom,

I feel like I need to talk directly to you in order to write today, so you’re getting a letter. I’m kind of having a rough time of it. Before you tell me to suck it up and join the club, don’t worry. I already am. All of us you had to leave behind are. We’re living and working and sometimes we smile, and we’re doing our things. But it hurts. It isn’t just me. I see it in Dad’s eyes and my sister’s eyes and my niece’s eyes too. It is like our smiles are wobbling on a balance beam, and at any moment they could topple over and land in a puddle of tears.

One of our mutual dear friends reminded me to “take all the time I need” right after you passed away. And so many others who have lost parents or other close loved ones warned me about how strange all the “firsts” would be.

Our first “first” was your birthday, barely a week after your passing. I knew that would hurt, and I’m prepared for other birthdays and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter to feel a bit like kicks in the balls I don’t have.

But Fourth of July?

I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t one of the big deal holidays in our family. We all did our own thing to celebrate. We might get together for a cookout or pool time or a drink at the pub, but we didn’t do fireworks or parades together. Even when I was little, those were something I did with Mommom and Grandad. Grandad knew the perfect place to park just outside of the commotion at the Inner Harbor so we could have all the sparkles in the sky without the traffic and crowds.

So I’m not sure why this weekend felt like such a kick in the gut. I have “moments” every day … but the last few days the gut-kicks often felt like the kicker was wearing steel-toed boots.

Maybe it was because Dad finally was able to get the pool open. I wasn’t even sure he’d open it this year, and was so excited to go over and take that first dip. You know that feeling – the water is so cold you gasp when you get in, and you have to work up the nerve to “dunk” the first time because your boobs are going to freeze! I’m not much of a summer girl, but that is one of the rituals I have always loved about the hot season.

I loved it Saturday too, but loving it hurt, because you weren’t there sitting on the pool steps with your dogs surrounding you, or stretched out in your reclining  lawn chair with a book or your Kindle, soaking up the sun. You loved your sun. We joked that you were like a lizard on a rock, in your glory on a steamy day.

I didn’t go out at all on the 4th.  I gave myself permission to not be around people and party atmospheres. I enjoyed my yard and caught bits and pieces of a Walking Dead marathon. That was a kick too, though. Walking Dead was a thing for us all.  Remember when Carl got shot, and Lori wondered if it would be a kinder outcome for him to die than to live on in the zombie apocolypse? Rick couldn’t find the words to convince her otherwise until Carl woke up and the first thing he did was tell Lori about getting so close to the deer.

“He talked about the deer, Lori. He talked about the deer.” The fact that the first thing Carl recalled was a moment of beauty rather than one of horror was the answer Rick had been seeking. We loved that episode. I knew that scene was coming and I turned your picture around to face the TV for a moment, telling Lee “Mom would want to see it.” Yeah, I’m a goofy-ass weirdo. Your fault Momma – a lot of that part of me comes from you.

I knew it was time to let you go when your pain was so consuming that you no longer felt like talking about the deer in our lives.  When it happened, I was as close to ready as I would ever be. In that moment, letting you go did not hurt any more than watching you suffer as you did in the last days and not being able to do a fucking thing about it.

It is in this aftermath – this first summertime without you – that the hole where you should be sometimes feels so big we could fall in.

Steamed crabs are still delicious, but you should be eating them beside us. Lee and I had to borrow Dad’s pickup because ours is in the shop … again. When I ride in it I feel the ghosts of those warm summer nights you, Dad and I piled in to ride home from the pub, and even the shade of the time we rode that way from Baltimore to West Virginia to go to Uncle Weach’s funeral.

And so I write and write and write these words. They are my way. My sister’s way is so much more like yours. Have you seen the way she is keeping your yard and all your flowers alive and thriving? It looks like you never left. She pours the same amount of love and care into your sanctuary that you did.

It is summer, with flowers and pools and that sense that no afternoon should go by without a nap. It is your season, your time.

The first summer without you. There are moments when its beauty just hurts to see, and in those moments I know you are there. poolday

Love you Mom.Like a dog.




4 thoughts on “The First Summer

  1. Lori Blockston

    Thinking about you. What a great way to express your feelings. I was reading this and thought how true all those “firsts” are without one of our parents and it made me realize people do get it and I am not alone and crazy that I can’t get over my Dad’s death. It has been 4 years now and I still think of him everyday which is how you are doing with your Mom.

    1. hawleywood40 Post author

      You are definitely not crazy Lori! Something I love about writing this is the feedback I’ve gotten from so many friends who have been walking this road longer than me. They share their memories of moms or dads or both who have passed on – some many many years ago – and the way the hurt still hits them sometimes. We are so not alone. Hugs.

  2. Jess Witkins

    Thinking of you, Pam. Hope that despite the hurt you felt this holiday weekend, you also felt surrounded by continued support and love – both from your mother and your surviving friends and family. Sending extra strength and courage your way.


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