Sunday, May 11, 2014

First Mother's Day Without My Mom is Bittersweet

Today is my first Mother's Day totally without Mom. She chose to be buried in a small cemetery near where she was born and spent the early years of her life. It's more than an hour's drive one way to visit her grave.

We were the only ones following the hearse in January to take Mom home again. Daughter and I driving our car and praying we'd make it knowing there were repairs that really needed to be done but we couldn't afford.

Sons came in from their homes across the country bringing their families; my grandchildren and Mom's great grandchildren. They chose to not follow the hearse and understandably so as the children needed something to eat before the long afternoon and one family's extensive drive home the same day. 

We'd had a short two hour "wake" for Mom that morning and some family and friends came to pay their respects. Then, we were on our way to take Mom to the church where she'd been confirmed, for our final goodbyes with Mom's family members who lived in the small town and surrounding areas.

As a young girl, Mom went to work in the "big city" to provide for others still at home. She sent them money and bought both necessities and gifts for her family.

All her brothers went to serve in WWII and Mom served alongside so many other women working in factories and supporting the war effort.

Mom's one last wish was to have Taps played at her funeral.

Military protocol would not allow this last salute to a woman who served her country the only way she could at the time -- building the equipment used by the men flying missions both of war and of mercy thousands of miles from home.

Daughter brought a recording of Taps on her phone and we stayed after others had left. Grandma's last request was honored.

Later that evening a cousin called. The one we'd asked to play the Taps; Mom's Godson and one of a few remaining real buglers playing taps at funerals.

On his own, as a "private citizen" he returned before sunset to the gravesite with his bugle and paid tribute to Mom. 

I cried when he called and I cry when I write this; thankful for those who care and find ways to celebrate life when others put "protocols" in the way blocking recognition of an under-recognized War Service -- women who supported our country in the only way they could at the time.

Mom received another tribute daughter and I will cherish all the days of our lives. To understand the depth of meaning of this event, a short return to the time before Mom's death, after my husband's passing, is inserted:

After my husband passed and was buried, about two months later we had a visitor we'd never had before. A hawk, a large, beautifully graceful and magnificent creature who flew directly into the towering oak tree that now stands more than forty feet tall; a tree that was a cutting from a backyard tree my husband's father had planted in their backyard decades before. 

Dad "rooted" the cutting and gave it to us a couple of years after we bought the home we love so dearly today. It's now as tall as his tree was then.

The hawk faced the house and I could almost see directly into its eyes as I stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. This was the window where I'd watched my husband and our sons and daughter work and play, my father-in-law catch fish in the small pond and the amazing changes of the seasons passing year after year after year.

At first, I was amazed seeing the hawk simply because we'd never, in all the decades we'd lived in the house, had a hawk come to visit. Deer, raccoon, geese, ducks, neighborhood dogs and even a rare coyote and once an owl even became entangled in netting daughter placed over the vegetable garden she'd planted, but never a hawk.

Birds of all types flew in because of the small pond and other non water fowl built nests and had their young only to fly away and sometimes return as adults to start the cycle of life again.

We would always find spare pieces of bread or purchase birdseed (when we had money to spare) and share with them. Some would visit close to the house, especially the geese, who almost "knocked" on the door (actually one did peck at the door one Spring) asking for us to take notice of their return and bring food for an expectant mother goose or their recent hatchlings.

So, this appearance of yet another wild creature near our home came as no surprise. What was surprising was the "vigil" it seemed to keep and the way it would come and go.

Over the months after my husband's death, the hawk would come to visit on a regular basis, arriving when I was feeling down or reaching my wits end trying to survive yet another crisis; it would perch in the tree and look toward the house. Its appearance always seemed to coincide with my overwhelming sense of need to return to the time when my husband was beside me and we would "get through" whatever life threw our way.

After a while, I started asking it to return when it hadn't appeared for several days, as I gazed out any window that faced the tree. I'd tell the hawk how much I needed it to return, needed a sign my husband was still with me in some way. Amazingly, my spoken or unspoken request would result in a visit.

I came to see the hawk as a sign of everlasting love enduring and eternal.

The severe winter and Mom's advancing Lewy Body Dementia took great tolls on our everyday lives; we saw our time with her as becoming less and less.

Then, what seemed like suddenly but had taken many weeks, we were on our final earthly journey with Mom/Grandma/Great Grandma keeping our vigil, journeying with her as life allowed, alongside her during her days/nights of passing and then to her final resting place.

I drove our car immediately behind the hearse, just as I'd done when my husband passed, my daughter sitting beside me as she'd stood beside me during the challenges we faced with two lives moving in this final direction.

Mom passed on the third anniversary of my husband/my children's father's burial; both were buried on a Monday and both in the first days of a new year on a day in January that wasn't typical even though the weather before their deaths was cold and very wintery.

We stayed close as we drove because we hadn't been told the route we'd take but knew we had to go from a small suburban community near where we lived, over several roads to a major highway, across a bridge spanning a large body of water. This was our final journey with her along a roadway into the past, a small town that to this day remains almost the same as I remember from my childhood.

To get to the main highway from the funeral parlor travelling from the city and state where we/she lived for so long to the hometown area/state where she would be buried, we had to go to a road widened many times to accommodate growing neighborhoods and traffic. Access required a right turn and a sharp somewhat long descent onto a ramp, a half cloverleaf, and onto the roadway.

Daughter and I were mostly silent as we followed the hearse. Two remaining family members there for one another as we'd been through one death and now travelling for a second time the familiar but unwelcome road of final departure from this earth and life together.

Following closely, emergency lights flashing to let others know we were with the hearse. No sign on the car that we were a "funeral". Just the three of us as we'd been for so long during Mom's journey with Lewy Body Dementia. Others came in and out of our life but we three were the "warriors" who suffered, endured and tried to overcome the effects of yet another life challenge to our family.

Moving in unison with the hearse, we both began to edge onto the roadway leading to the final highway journey taking us to where Mom would rest.

From our left we caught sight of the largest and most magnificent hawk, even more impressive in size than the one who visited regularly after my husband's death, flying on a downward path that brought it directly over the hearse from one side to the other within inches of the top. A dip of one wing was visible as we watched this amazing final tribute.

This unexpected, silent and quick appearance was followed by what seemed like a disappearance almost into thin air. Daughter and I were both amazed and each questioned the other about what we saw.

It was real. It was amazing.

The day before, visiting with my second son and his family at the hotel where they were staying, I shared the story with my oldest granddaughter, who'd just turned thirteen, about the consistent visits by a hawk to our home

When we were at the church before saying goodby, my grand-daughter turned to me and said, "Nana, I saw two hawks when we were driving here. They seemed to follow us for a long time."  I told her Great Grandma and Dad were watching over them now, together, as Grandpa did for so long by himself. Then, we shared the "fly over/salute" given Great Grandma by the single massive hawk on our way to the church.

Now there are four generations of women following in one another's footsteps. This great grand-daughter like her grandmother (her Nana), her Nana's mother and her great-great grandmother all carry the same name. Not always as a first name but definitely as a "namesake". All shouldered what life gave them putting family first. Character and integrity important in their lives.

I look forward to how she'll carry forward the legacies of the women she's named after. I look forward to how life and love will mold her and make her the person her daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter will someday share stories about. 

Mom is in my thoughts a lot these days. Especially today, being Mother's Day, as well as yesterday, the third month anniversary of her departure from this life.

Love. Hope. Faith.

Memories of Mother's Day and other holidays, joys and even some sorrows, challenges faced and overcome and even tragedies that only time could repair or replace.

Each day we write our life's story. Today and tomorrow are filled with opportunity and the prospect of another day.

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