For Christmas, Jamie got me, Jordyn and herself each a copy of a book called “Healing After Loss.” It is a daily meditation tool of sorts – a different thought on grief and moving forward for each day of the year, written by a woman named Martha Whitmore Hickman, who suffered the loss of a child.
Today’s page was about “sharing your story.” It talked about how in sharing the story of your grief process, you may unknowingly help someone else who is or will be going through their own loss. It also talked about how sharing the story of your loved one – their life and your special moments with them – helps keep them alive and soothes both you and others who loved them through fond memories.
I think I have done a pretty good job in this blog of the former. I’ve written several pieces on losing you and the roller-coaster that has been the aftermath.
But I haven’t done nearly as much on the latter. I haven’t shared your story, or painted much of a picture of who you were in life other than our last year here together.
Perhaps that makes sense. I had to get those grief-thoughts out there before I could dig deeper. That grief has been like wearing a heavy winter coat on a 90-degree day. It smothered the stuff underneath. Only by shedding it can I let those other things out to breathe in the cool fresh air.
I am slowly coming to the point where I can once again feel that air on my face. So I plan to spend the next several entries on your story.
To so many, you were James’s wife, Pam and Jamie’s mother, and Jordyn’s grandmother. Mom. Momma. Mommy. Nee. Granny Bean.
But before you were any of that, you were Sabina. We so often see our mothers only through our “post-me” lenses. I was the first to come along and turn you into “Mom,” but you were so many things before me or even Daddy were on your radar.
So this is a little of what I know of you before me – before any of us.
– You were born in Pittsburgh, and although your family relocated to Baltimore when you were still a very little girl, you carried the town and The Steelers in your heart your whole life.
– You had three sisters – Natalie, Dorothy and Cindy. You loved them all, but while Natalie was much older and Cindy much younger, you and Dorothy were so close in age that I think of you as “almost twins.” Knowing that my aunts carry you in their hearts and that their landscape of memories includes all these pre-me moments I could never carry on for you in any way that does them justice has been a huge comfort to me.
– You lost your dad before you came to Baltimore – you were so young that perhaps you didn’t know him nearly as well as you would have liked. He was mostly pictures and stories and other people’s memories, but I always sensed that in your heart he was still somehow your hero.
– Your childhood was not an easy one. That is not for this blog. But the person it made you is. You were fiercely determined that your daughters and granddaughters would experience a different kind of childhood, and we did.
– You saw yourself as an awkward kid. I never saw you that way, but you told me you felt like all your features were too big for your frame. “Big eyes, big ears, big nose in a skinny little face on a skinny little body,” you’d laugh. And then you grew into them and you were stunning. Not just stereotypically pretty, but soulfully beautiful. Especially those “big eyes,” with those never-ending eyelashes. When I was a kid, the way you said you felt about your looks as a girl gave me hope. I’d look at my beautiful mother and realize that one day all my parts that I didn’t think fit quite right would click into place and work together instead of against each other too.
– As a teenager, you went after what you wanted. You were smart and serious and you wanted to go to a Catholic girl’s school instead of a public school, so you worked and rode public transportation to make it happen. How many teenage girls would put so much extra responsibility on themselves to go to a school where there were NO BOYS? Surely not me!
– Many of the happier childhood memories you shared with me included trips to visit your Aunt Annie and Aunt Genny. I also remember stories of your mom working at a book factory, and of Aunt Nat, your oldest sister, getting married and having her first daughter Kim when Aunt Cin, your youngest sister, was pretty much a toddler herself. Aunt Cin wasn’t crazy about the idea of a new baby and tried to throw Kim in the trash (sorry Aunt Cin!).
– Your first boyfriend was named Milton Dodo. I have no clue if I’m spelling that right. I always pictured him as looking like Crispin Glover as young George McFly in Back to the Future, and once you told me I was kind of right.
– You wanted to be either a nun or a brain surgeon. I came along and you became “Mom” instead. When I’d whine to you about how much farther along I’d be with my writing if I didn’t have to work full-time, you’d remind me that if it weren’t for me you’d be wearing a habit or carrying a scalpel and say “that’s just life.”
I told you I wasn’t sorry I’d kept you from becoming a nun, because again – NO BOYS, but that I was sorry about the brain surgeon thing. Then one night when we’d had a few you gave me a laundry list of all the changes you’d make to our brains (mine, Dad’s, Jay’s) if you had become one, and I told you I was no longer sorry about that either. I so love that we could always talk and laugh about some of these things so many mothers and daughters I know would consider off-limits and maybe even hurtful. We shared a warped sense of humor and had a foundation of love and understanding that allowed us to be real.
– You met Dad because a close girlfriend of yours who went to school with him fixed you up. He was “that guy,” the one running around having fun and getting in trouble and doing what he wanted, while you were preparing for the nunnery or medical school. You fell in love with him and his parents too – one of my most powerful memories from our talks about your pre-me world is how Mommom and Grandad treated you like a daughter almost from day one. I’m really glad you chose Dad over the nunnery. Even if we do have souls and mine would have ended up popping out somewhere else in that situation, I can’t imagine any other family that would have put up with me.
I could go on, but that’s enough for now. The story of a beautiful life is best told in chapters.
Love you Mom. Like a Dog.