Mother’s Day Revisited

With Jan/Taffy during her last Christmas season.

A friend recently noted on Facebook that many of us who no longer have our mothers feel as though we are unmoored.

I occasionally have that feeling—but then I remember that my mother is still with me in many ways.

On Friday, I visited my friends at Mass Appeal, the lifestyle program on which I cook from time to time. The young hosts were celebrating Mother’s Day; their mothers were also guests that day and were deservedly feted. (They have raised pretty terrific children.)

For a moment or two I felt a little sorry for myself. I had no mother, I thought, and I was no one’s mother.

Co-host Seth Stutman snapped me right out of that little bout of self-pity. As a tribute to my mother I prepared a salad that featured one of her favorite foods, rhubarb. While Seth and Lauren Zenzie tossed the salad for me I shared the words on my mother’s gravestone.

Her epitaph was inspired by an incident that took place shortly after I graduated from Mount Holyoke. I returned to campus and as an adult (finally!) was invited to the college’s weekly faculty cocktail hour. There I met a retired philosophy professor named Roger Holmes.

“I believe my mother took a course from you many years ago,” I told him. “I don’t know whether you’d remember her: Jan Hallett, Class of 1939.”

My Mother in 1939

The elderly but spry man immediately replied, “Short and full of life!”

Obviously, my mother made an impression. When she died my brother and I decided to inscribe Professor Holmes’s description of our petite, lively mother on her grave.

When Seth heard the epitaph during our cooking segment, he stated, “Well, Tinky, I’d say the same thing about you,” and gave me a big Mother’s Day hug.

He went on to note that he thought of me as one of his “show moms.”

Since I’m officially only 39 and Seth is 31, I replied that I and his other show moms (studio manager Denise and director Deb) thought of ourselves as older sisters rather than mothers.

Nevertheless, I was touched and reassured.

My mother may no longer be walking around the house, but she is present to me—not only in my own small stature, but also in every dish I cook and every song I sing. She will always be with me.

And I may not be a mother, but I am an older woman friend to lots of children (and even a few grownups like Seth!) whom I can nurture and love.

I seldom quote the Bible, but in this case I have to agree with the “Song of Solomon”: “For love is strong as death.” I also concur with lyricist Leo Robin: “Hooray for love!”

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

If you’d like to see the segment (the salad was DELICIOUS!), here it is:

Return Trip

Courtesy of Franklin Medical Center

I didn’t expect my life after my mother’s death to be a straight path. I don’t specialize in straight paths.

I expected it to be bumpy—and it is. It’s also curvy.

Some of the curves have been a little scary. Every tenth day or so I turn around and don’t quite know who I am or what my future will be.

I try to see this uncertainty as a challenge. Mostly I succeed. But a girl can tire of challenges.

Some of the curves are oddly gentle.

Last Thursday night I took my 86-year-old neighbor Alice to the hospital, to the same emergency room that had been my destination with both of my parents.

Alice had fallen in the middle of the day. By evening her leg was so sore that she wasn’t sure she could get to bed. So she called me—and my friend Esther and I helped her into my car. We got to the ER around 9:30.

In strolled the sympathetic red-haired doctor who had charmed my mother on her last visit. Unlike me, my mother was not a woman to use the word “cute” lightly. Nevertheless, I believe it passed through her lips that night last August as she grasped his hand.

The whole experience could have been a bad curve for me—not to mention poor Alice, who was definitely in a great deal of pain.

It could have made the grief turn around and around and around in me as I remembered being there with my mother and facing her death for the first time, not as something bound to happen at some point in the distant future but as something almost sure to happen very soon.

Somehow instead of a scary spiral this ER visit turned into a calm unraveling, a path toward healing.

It made me smile to see the staff continue to do for Alice and others what they did for my mother on a very difficult night. Acting kind and concerned and competent. Going on.

And of course it was wonderful to be able to bring Alice home that night. We eventually found out that she has a hairline fracture of her hip, which will heal with a lot of rest (NOT something my dynamo neighbor is good at, but we all need our challenges) and lots of cosseting from children and friends.

She was sore, but she wasn’t dying. Not soon, anyway.

The night wasn’t a do-over. I love Alice, but she’s not my mother.

It WAS a comfort, however.