I am writing this just before Mother’s Day, a time that always makes me think of two things: one is my children, and the other is my own mother. My kids tend to remember this Hallmark holiday now that they have grown past adolescence, and I enjoy their phone calls of appreciation, one from New York and the other from California, both showing me how well-remembered I am.
But thinking of my mother on this particular day is more complex. With a death as sudden as suicide, we cling to memories and objects with perhaps greater intensity than we would if the one we loved had departed in a predictable fashion. With suicide, or with an unanticipated death, none of those left behind have any kind of closure at all.
For many years following my mother’s passing, I wore her jewelry and clothing religiously, as if they would somehow bring her back to life. It is not uncommon for people in general to save such things, or to pass them along to family and friends as a way of remembering. This morning, I put on Mom’s engagement ring, just as I have done on many days. The arrival of Mother’s Day this year leads me to wonder what it means to me to do so. Perhaps I feel compelled to keep this highly personal symbol of her life visible–on my hand, out where the world can see and appreciate both it and her.
My mother’s best friend, the poet Maxine Kumin, felt the same way about wearing talismans of those we love who are no longer with us. I’ve reprinted a poem of hers here, one that she wrote about wearing the raiment of the dead as a way of bringing back life, establishing a spiritual contact with them again–and while this may not true in reality, it does feels true in a metaphorical sense. Her poem is a testament to loss and the ways we deal with it–specifically, the wearing of my mother’s blue blazer. Maxine was like a mother to me as well, and I still mourn her passing several years ago. My relationship with her makes the poem even more poignant for me.
I will tell you the story that clarifies and enriches her work here: she was the last person to see my mother alive. The two spent lunchtime together that Friday in October, correcting the galleys for the last book Mom would ever publish, The Awful Rowing Toward God. Afterwards, she left Maxine’s house and drove back to our home in a Boston suburb to die. Strange as it may seem, I cherish this poem Maxine wrote about their last hours together, one which captures so perfectly the way we can comfort ourselves with an inanimate object and imbue it with both sorrow and celebration. How we miss those who are gone for good–yet never forgotten. Especially our mothers on Mother’s Day.
How It Is