Monday, May 2, 2011

Frozen Numbers

It was surprising news to wake up to on a Monday morning. After almost a decade of hunting for him, the mastermind behind the destruction of the World Trade Center had been found and murdered. Swirled into the constant updates on the situation were references to the attacks on our country, that occurred almost a decade ago. That news was almost as hard to believe as the assassination news itself. Ten years. It’s been ten years since we turned on our TVs to find out that our country had been attacked.

I remember it like it was yesterday, as does almost anyone who was over the age of ten when it happened. But the anniversary date has come, year after year, and life has raced ahead in between. If given a minute, I could always tell you exactly how many years it’s been, but I never had the number as a constant in my head. Heck, I have to do some mental math just to tell you how old my own children are, at any given time.

It led to me ponder how some numbers are slippery but others become frozen in time, especially when tragedy strikes. We are about to celebrate another Mother’s Day. It’s my nineteenth time to enjoy the honor. That’s easy math. My daughter’s birth ushered me into this sacred position. But every year I also do some other math. Without wanting to, my mind always, without fail, stops to calculate how many years I’ve had to celebrate without needing to buy a card for my own mother.

She died almost seventeen years ago. This will be my sixteenth year of missing her on a day I want to pamper her. The sixteenth year that I’ll walk by the aisles of Mother’s Day gifts as I make my way to the section of graveside flowers for Memorial Day. The irony catches in my stomach every single year.

To be honest, I had to stop and do the math on that last paragraph. My daughter was born in 92, my son in 93 ,and she died in 1994. Quick math gives me a seventeen. But another number is burned into my memory. I don’t have to do any math to come up with it. A big five and a zero. She was 50 when she died.

A night of country dancing, as she powered through a terrible headache, ended in the ICU, with a stroke that eventually took her life. In the shock and grief that followed, the number fifty was seared into my brain. It seemed like an ‘older person’ age, although I felt way too young to be without her. And every year that has brought me closer to that number myself, helps me to see just how young she really was.

I have a personal tradition, to ease my own longing for my mom. Every Mother’s Day I send a card to a woman I’ve never met. She lived in my neighborhood when, just two years after I lost my mom, she lost both of her daughters on TWA flight 800. In one fell swoop she lost all of her children. Their plane crashed on the month after I gave birth to my third child.

My house was full of life and little people, and hers was suddenly, permanently quiet.

The next time a Mother’s Day rolled around I thought of her, and how her heart must be aching also. So I sent her a card, and my heart felt better.

Every year since I’ve repeated the gesture. We’ve exchanged holiday cards and she usually sends me follow up cards, in the weeks after Mother’s Day, but we’ve never met. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about her, when I’m pondering this crazy thing called grief.

I’m sure she has a couple of numbers seared into her own brain. The numbers 25 and 28. That’s where her daughter’s lives ended. At ages 25 and 28. They will never be 26 and 29. Just like my mom will never be 51. Those numbers will forever be frozen in time.

I’m sure almost everyone you meet has a frozen number or two in their brain. The grade they were in school when their father died. The year they lost a baby to miscarriage. The day their spouse asked for a divorce. We all walk around with some number imprinted on our soul.

Today I plan to put a special card in the mail to my mother in law, my stepmom, and the friend I’ve never met. Then I’ll wait for Sunday to roll around, and I’ll enjoy the day with my own children. Because for as much as I miss my own mom on that day, I never take for granted the gifts I have living under my own roof.

Our family is still very much full of life and love and new memories. Every year my children are growing, and changing, and becoming new people. No frozen numbers here.

Mother’s Day can be a time of reflection, but it’s also, very much, a time to treasure the numbers that continue on.


theelfqueen said...

How about one - one friend (this one - far away now, soon closer) thinking good thoughts for you. Every time you see another visitor has been to your blog -- add one.

Katrina said...

Judy, Your choice to transform your grief into an annual act of love and kindness is truly inspirational. There is no way to avoid loss and pain, no way around the numbers that are seared into our brains and engraved upon our hearts -- and yet this beautiful post reminds us that there are many responses to heartache. And what better one than doing what you can to ease the sadness of someone else. Thank you -- for what you do and for writing about it. Happy Mother's Day to you.