Five years and a lifetime

I think about my mom a lot.

I don’t just mean staring off into space and remembering how much we laughed together or the comfort she always provided when I needed it.

I think about those memories, but I mean, like, picturing her here with us, watching my daughter with me — watching her bang my flip-flop on the patio door at the cat, or using her Frozen chair to crawl onto the couch with me. I think about my mom from nearly the moment I awake until I close my eyes at night.

See how funny Della is, mama? Isn’t it so cute when she grins so big that you can see all of her five teeth? When I say, “Check your mailbox,” and she walks over to her playset and opens the mailbox and pulls out the things I’ve tucked inside it to surprise her and says, “Oooooh!” — isn’t that amazing? We didn’t even teach her to make those surprised sounds.

Look at these cute pajamas I found for her, mom! How irresistable is that giggle when I smooch her neck, just like you always did to me, even when I was 29? I love her so much that my heart could burst like a fat, swollen slug (someone please cross-stitch that onto a pillow for me).

For the last five years, I’ve wanted to tell her a lot, to show her a lot.

The first two years or so, I was kind of a mess. I have adapted much more now, but back then, I had trouble getting out of bed every day. I was angry a lot, I mean shaking with rage anger, screaming and crying until my voice was hoarse. (My husband deserves an award, not because I screamed at him, which I didn’t, but because he never told me to stop, or to be a different way.)

Of course, now I have a lot to get up for every morning.

My sweet, lovable baby Della is unquestionably one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. But raising her without her namesake around is tinged with melancholy.

I have this quirk. The most annoying song will be stuck in my head for days at a time. Or a line from an episode of “The Office” that aired nine or 10 years ago.

The other day, the title of a poem I wrote in fifth or sixth grade passed through my thoughts — “The Soft, Silent Night.”

I wrote really bad poetry in high school and college, stuff that I cringe even thinking about, but it couldn’t touch what I wrote in fifth or sixth grade.

I wrote “The Soft, Silent Night,” about a young woman who was basically Cinderella/Snow White, who would sing to and was beloved by the animals of the forest. She slept every night with a rose on her chest. (I think the most difficult thing to believe about this poem is that anyone could sleep the entire night on their back.)

My mom, who knew me better than I knew myself, submitted this poem to one of those companies that publishes your drivel in a book and then gets you to buy the book for a ridiculous sum.

Why did my mom do this? Because I was in fifth or sixth grade, and loved to write, which she recognized and encouraged. Just before I came to the realization that my dream was to someday be a published author, she did what she could to encourage me, even though I was no young Sylvia Plath.

And somehow, I did one day find a job where I was paid to write. I got to do what I had always dreamed about — particularly once I began writing columns — and it began long ago with some really terrible poetry. I’m not even going to tell you about my poem on the Boston Massacre and Crispus Attucks. (I do, however, still remember Crispus Attucks because of this poetry assignment, so well done, Mrs. Thompson.)

I am thankful my mom lived to see me become a reporter and columnist. During her last few weeks, I found out I was one of three named the Young Journalist of the Year by the Missouri Press Association (I suspect there were only three nominated that year, but whatever). I’m not sure if she was aware of any of that, but I like to think she knew.

She also lived to see me engaged to Matt, another incredible gift from God. That was the day before she died. She was on a ventilator, couldn’t speak, but I showed her the ring, and she mouthed one question. “How?” I told her the story, and she nodded and closed her eyes. She had certainly been looking forward to that moment for a long time. I can’t say she held out for it — nobody’s world revolves around me — but she did seem to be at peace once she knew.

Oh, how I wish she had lived to meet her granddaughter. I still feel angry sometimes — what took her, why did she go, can I blame someone for this? I want to blame something. I want to throw rotten eggs at a barn door. Get me a golf club and an old watermelon so I can take it out on something.

I have missed her for five years, and I probably have a lifetime until I see her again.

Getting out of bed is no problem, these days. It’s usually several hours earlier than I would like to get out of bed, but I get to hold my girl, and rock her, and sing to her, and say, “Rise and shine, little rosebud!” just like my mom said to me. My dream now is to encourage Della, just as my mom encouraged me.

She still does, you know.


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