"Orphan" is a very empty word, starting with the initial "O" that reminds me of a big, alphabetic hole. It conjures up images of loss, of being rootless, of unwanted and untenable liberty. When I think of "orphan," I think of something flying around in the great human universe, searching for its home.
Today, I'm an orphan. That sounds silly, given the fact that I've been able to vote for over 35 years, which means I'm a very big girl. I pay taxes, own (33. percent of) a house, take the train by myself and even know how to defrost things. Oh, and I recently became co-owner of a bison that was originally advertised as a Black Lab puppy.
But as sure as the earth travels around the Sun in an eternal, interstellar pas de deux, I'm an orphan. My mother died last August.
It took me a while to use the actual word "died," or any of its variations. For months, I'd say "she passed away," as if I was standing by the curb and her blithe spirit brushed up against me, turned the corner and disappeared from sight. I preferred to think of her dissolving into the light at dusk, with bits of her swirling and glittering and staying with me like errant particles of affection. I couldn't bring myself to imagine her gone, in the dark ground, because she hated the suffocating dark. She was all morning, and fresh, and always sweet smelling. Saying "she died" cancelled those images from my mind.
But lately, I've been able to say the word "died" without feeling as if I'm losing her from my life. Yes, I'm now orphaned of her physical presence and the comforting, girlish voice that never deepened with age. I used to say it was a voice without wrinkles. Yes, I don't wake up to her sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, watching one of her beloved gardening or cooking or house hunter shows, and she doesn't come to the station to pick me up in the evening. We don't take those long Sunday drives anymore, barely making conversation in that silent intimacy only loved ones can appreciate.
I'm physically alone. And since I'm not married and never had children and lived with her for more than half a century, that solitude is a raw gash on my heart, nine months on.
But as I face the prospect of my first Mother's Day in 53 years without a mother to coddle, buy for, hug and adore, I am forcing myself to salvage what joy I can, in memory.
One of my favorite lines of poetry, if not my favorite, comes from Wordsworth's "Intimations on Immortality." It's probably everyone's favorite, accessible and yet otherworldly, but it always had a heightened significance for me because of the flower imagery: What though the radiance which was once so bright/Be now forever taken from my sight/Though nothing can bring back the hour/Of Splendor in the Grass/Of Glory in the Flower/We will grieve not but, rather, find strength in what remains behind"
I disagree, respectfully, with Wordsworth. You cannot tell someone who has lost the center of their world to "grieve not." It's like saying to the Earth "stop orbiting." Both are equally unnatural, and unlikely.
But I'm down with all the rest, especially the part about finding strength in memory.
I miss the feel of my mother's hands, but I remember how it felt to walk with her when she picked me up after my first day in kindergarten. I was proud to be a big girl in my plaid jumper, strutting my stuff for all to see … until we came to that big intersection and that hand around my own squeezed tightly as if to say "you're mine, little girl. You're safe."
I long to smell her impossibly sweet skin, but there's a reasonable facsimile of bliss if I spritz Halston's or White Shoulders in the air around my head and breathe as if my life depended on it (and truth be told, it sometimes does.)
I wish there were more recordings of that pixie voice I could listen to, but there's an old Memorex tape from 1976 made by my somewhat sadistic father during Hurricane Belle, his attempt to capture our excitement and fear and bravado. In the process, he recorded my mother, bustling around the kitchen of our rented home, oblivious to the impending storm and yelling in frustration at three messy little boys who wouldn't pick up their toys. That's the mother I remember, dismissive of a hurricane and her own force of nature.
I'm an orphan of these tactile sensations, of the superficial and beloved things that made my mother, my mother.
But then again, I am a product of all the things that existed beyond and within and around the beautiful presence of Lucy Flowers. Her legacy is more than what little can be squeezed into an obituary, or photo albums, or fragile ribbons of Memorex.
And this Sunday, it will keep me company and I'll hear deep within the shell of my ear: I'm here.
You can forget what I said about orphans.Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News