On July 13, 1995, my thirteenth birthday, I sat in the very back of a 1155566 passenger van on my way to YW camp. I remember seeing the leaders looking back at me with concerned faces and whispering in hushed tones. Then we made an unexpected stop at a gas station and I was told my mom, who had been in the hospital, was waiting for me to call so she could wish me a happy birthday. (She had been in and out of the hospital since the previous year, and now I realize I was never actually taken to see her in the hospital. Ever. Weird.)
I know from my eternally youthful face with zero wrinkles or sun damage you’ll be surprised by this, but if you look at my crypt keeper wrinkled hands you’ll see that I’m actually from “the good ol’ days”. When I was 13, very few people had cell phones. And pay phones were still in common use. Thinking about it now, I’m confused. How did they know I was supposed to call my mom? Did someone communicate telepathically with my leaders after we left the church but before we stopped at the gas station? In retrospect, it’s all a bit peculiar. But then again, its ALL a bit peculiar.
Anyhow, someone put in a quarter and dialed a number, got mom on the line and handed me the phone. Her voice was almost unrecognizable. Strained, weak, and feigning enthusiasm. The only part of the conversation I remember is the word “Terminal”. I didn’t cry. It didn’t ruin camp. It didn’t even ruin my birthday.
Months before, prior to mom even showing symptoms of cancer, we had been prepared. I was in my room laying on the floor writing poetry by candlelight. You know, like any normal twelve year old girl. Words were flying onto the page without effort. I finished a poem and felt that rush of satisfaction. But then I read it, as if for the first time. I began to cry. I went looking for mom and found her in the room next to me, also sitting on the floor, encircled by family history papers. I showed her the poem. She cried. She hugged me and said “please read this at my funeral.” Although we didn’t “know” then, we knew. And that experience, while surrounded by generations of ancestors as she worked on binding our family together through temple sealings, gave me peace and the assurance of eternal families.
When mom actually died, I didn’t cry. A neighbor rebuked me harshly that day because I was out and about, not mourning or looking grieved. As an adult I reflected on that period and wondered if I was really that self-absorbed that her death didn’t shatter me. But more than grief, I was enveloped in peace. She had promised she would be there for all of my big life moments. And I believed her. She visited me in dreams and sometimes in profound waking moments of intense sensory awareness of her presence. I knew our family was bound through temple covenants. Really knew. I believe Heavenly Father made her death “easy” on me because my strength would be tested so vigorously by my father’s quick remarriage, and the trauma I would then be dealt.
This is all just background. Heavy background. Shake it off.
Georgia and I are cut from the same cloth. I truly *know* that girl on such a core level. This has been from day one of her life. But it gets even more real as she grows and I see our similarities. Lately, the thought has been percolating, that my relationship with Georgia can help me better relate to and remember my own mom.
When I was two or three years old, my mom would pile laundry onto her waterbed. I would sit in the corner of the bed, swishing the water under me while she folded. I would wrap myself up in a blanket and say “Mom! Open your present!” Over and over again, although sensing that I was trying her patience, she would acquiesce and unwrap her gift. Inside she would find, every time, a puppy with panting tongue and wagging tail, hoping to be petted and played with. And as soon as she would lose interest I would wrap up in the blanket and try again. Several times a week, Georgia does this with me, except she’s a kitty cat and waterbeds aren’t even a thing anymore. Although it gets old, doing this time after time, I remember that longing feeling of wanting my mom’s attention and wanting her to be so thrilled by her new pet. So I try to give that to Georgia until I can distract her with another activity.
As a child I had a terrible time falling asleep. I would stare into the shadows for hours, bored out of my mind, sometimes frightened, just wishing I could sleep. When mom finished tucking me in and stepped towards the door, my heart would lurch. I would beg for another hug and then refuse to let go. I felt like I was being abandoned alone in the dark. If I heard her anywhere in the house I would call out for her. I just wanted her there, wanted affection and felt utterly desperate. Now I understand. She’d had long days and she wanted me to just go to sleep. Sure she loved me but she had a lot to do. But now, when Georgia stretches out tuck-in time and then cries desperately for us… I go in. I can hear myself as a child in her voice. I remember feeling this unquenchable need for affection and never getting my fill. I know Georgia knows that feeling and I know even my best efforts may still leave her wanting. But so help me. I’m trying. When I hear that cry, I’m there. And I stay until she gives me permission to leave. My mom probably didn’t have that luxury. But I do. So I’ll take it.
These and other experiences cause me to see myself, as if through my mother’s eyes. As I look at Georgia I see how much I was loved and cherished. In spite of living more than 20 years without her, I am beginning to understand mom’s love for me. I feel her urging me to take the time with my kids and, above all, make sure they know they are loved. I pray that my kids’ memories will be of annoyance that I showed them too much affection, rather than that hollow longing for more. I may not spoil them with material things, but so help me, I can spoil them with love. Or at least I can try.