Monday, September 4, 2017

Bringing home Mom

I dreamt about my mother last night. It was vivid, like it was yesterday when I saw her last. It was refreshing, since my memories are less intense, and more sporadic these days. On my way into town this morning, it dawned on me that I should really go pick up my mother’s ashes from my dad’s basement.

When mom died, we displayed an urn with her ashes on the mantle. Each one of my mom’s children received an urn. Friends and family suggested it was morbid that we had one on display. It made them uncomfortable. We removed the urn from the top of the fireplace and put it in a box with my sister’s share of mom’s ashes, before I moved away to college.

They’ve lived in the basement of my father’s house, in a box marked “Fragile Mickie”, for the past 12 years. I know my mother’s spirit is not in that box. But I’ve struggled deciding where to take my mom’s ashes. I thought that time and space from her death would enlighten me. At first I had several ideas. Kauffman Stadium, Longview Lake, Wayside Waifs, plant a tree, take her on a road trip. Nothing really seemed to fit though. None of those things really made up who she was. We didn’t have a home that was special to us, since we moved every few years. I struggled feeling like I didn’t know my mother at all. Who was she if none of those places or things really defined her?

The longer I’ve waited, the more the memories have seemed to fade. Things are no clearer to me now than they were almost 15 years ago. But I woke up this morning with an unwavering feeling; I need to bring mom home.

I called my dad to let him know I’d be stopping by. When I got to my dad’s house, the box was sitting in the living room. There it sat. Fragile Mickie. I lifted the box into the back of my car, and headed toward home.

I changed the radio station at least 100 times in the first 20 minutes of my drive. I imagined having to explain to my mother the state of country music in 2017. I bet she would find it hard to believe that my students several years ago had no idea who Garth Brooks was. Instead they listen to songs about beer, “gettin’ some”, and fluff. Less subtlety.  Not as much heart or soul, no story or lesson to share.  “Kids these days,” she’d say.

I exited the highway and came to a stop. My car rumbled below me. It’s not fancy, but it’s gets us from A to B.  Eric and I paid cash for it after sharing a car for nearly a year. My views on money have changed a lot over the past decade, and I’ve worked hard to avoid unnecessary debt. Eric and I haven’t made a car payment in years, and while it seems minor, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. My mom spent money when she had it (and sometimes when she didn’t), although never on herself. Our Christmases were large. Our friends and neighborhood families were always treated by my mom, whether it was ice cream from Dairy Queen, or a new pet hamster. Giving gifts was one of my mother’s love languages. Everything she left that was hers alone fit in the box in the back of my car. Fragile Mickie.

As I continued my drive, nearing the gravel roads that would ultimately bring me home, I thought about the things I never understood about my mom. Time and experience have helped me understand.  I could never figure out why my mother always seemed so sad. How could someone so brilliant, funny, and bold not be happy? She was dealt many difficult cards throughout her life, but she was so loved and everyone’s best friend. How could she feel alone?

I know now what it is like to feel sad for no reason, to feel overwhelmed by the mundane, and anxious about the future. I fight a constant battle to stay positive and overcome my negative head garbage, and when I’m down, I’m healthy enough to stand up and face the day. I don’t remember my mom ever being healthy. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

I turned down our gravel road. On our street you have to slow down to let the goats cross the road. Our neighbors wear rhinestones on their jeans and cowboy hats. “Coon”, from two streets over, is the neighborhood watch. He’s been watching these streets for 30 years he tells us. His friends call him, “Coon”. Lisa next door, drops off flowers while we are gone for us to plant in our garden. Kevin and his wife, South of us about a half mile, are quick to share with us the small-town gossip. Carl, two houses up, used to return the toys his dog would steal from our yard, before he was hit by a car. I miss that dog.  The cows get out from up the road and sometimes the horses. Tim hays our fields, and for a dozen eggs, buried a horse on our property when she suddenly died.

This is the exact life my mother talked about me having and the type of people she hoped would take care of me.

I pulled into our driveway and pushed Fragile Mickie through the basement door. When I opened it, there were two urns. I took them out so I could see what else was in the box.
Gawdy bed sheets, six shirts, a pair of jeans, a heating pad, and three candle votives. I let that sink in for a moment. That was it. That was all Fragile Mickie had for me.

I pulled the shirt I remembered her wearing, close to my face. That’s her. Everything in Fragile Mickie smelled like her. Somehow a plastic box had maintained the scent of my mom for the better part of 15 years. I wept into every piece of clothing as I pulled them to my face. Then I folded them nicely and put them back in the box.

I sat looking at the two urns. One, my own. The other belonging to my younger sister, Carmen. I prayed for Carmen in that moment. The past 15 years without Mom to wrangle my sister have been difficult. My dad has done everything he can. I struggled with guilt for many years, not being able to save my sister from herself. I wondered if it’s the one way I have failed my mother. I wondered if she could have made a difference. But God has reminded me time and time again, that love and forgiveness is all I can offer. I learned that first when Mom died.

Fragile Mickie sat below the table full of wedding supplies. Mason jars, burlap runners, and twinkle lights. Everything prepped and ready to make its way to the venue for the biggest day of my life, only two months away. Mom won’t be there. Neither will Fragile Mickie. But the clarity about who Mom was and where Fragile Mickie rests, will be in my heart.

I picked up my urn and took it upstairs to the back deck. I sat it down to pet my pup, Walt, and held him close. My mom would have loved my puppies, and kittens, and chickens, and ducks. She would have begged me to name the bunnies and I would have let her. She would have been so happy for me.

Fragile Mickie is just a box with the physical remnants of my mother. My mother didn’t have a lot of hobbies. She didn’t hold on to jewelry to pass down generations. There was no place she ever talked about visiting time and time again. She left nothing of value for anyone and no instructions on what to do with her ashes. She didn’t care. But the people who loved her stubborn, brilliant, fighting soul miss her always. So did the animals she left behind.

My mom made it to where I always dreamed she’d go, and Fragile Mickie has finally made it where she needs to be.