It’s been six years since my mom died on my dad’s birthday and a week before mine. We celebrated her life at a memorial service worthy of her faithfulness and flair the Wednesday between our Sunday birthdays. That first birthday and one week anniversary is a blur, though amazing friends tried their best to help us celebrate at their lake house with plenty of balloons, key lime pie, and space to grieve with the wind in our faces on a boat.
This was the first year all the calendar days of the week lined up in our anniversary milestones, which I hadn’t thought about until the Saturday before. I was in Atlanta visiting friends who are family on the way to another chosen family’s work celebration. Throughout that Saturday morning of savoring grits, bacon, coffee, and catching up, I became very aware of what I was doing at that exact time on that day six years ago. That acute awareness remained throughout the next 72 hours.
While driving from Atlanta to LaGrange that afternoon, I remembered how I told Mom’s best friend and another close family friend they should come back, as it seemed Mom was transitioning. I remembered when one of Mom’s pastors came by, she said, “Just walking to the front door of this house feels like it’s being held in a cloud. This is holy ground.”
After the celebratory family dinner at my friend’s lovely new home in LaGrange, I returned to my hotel room, and remembered at that time on Saturday six years before, I washed my mom’s gorgeous silver hair one last time. I closed my eyes and leaned against the hotel shower wall for what seemed like forever as I remembered what her hair felt and smelled like. It was as if turning off the water would transport me back to the present, and I needed to stay in that tactile, sacred act of love as long as possible.
I received thoughtful messages from friends who remembered the anniversary. One even had flowers and candy sent to my hotel room. During the church service to celebrate my friend being the new pastor, I gave what’s called the “charge to the newly installed,” which is to say I shared my hopes for his season of life there. He and I share 15 years of friendship and an even longer obsession with A River Runs Through It, so no question I included some of Norman Maclean’s words alongside my own.
As I said, “Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs,” I suddenly heard my mom’s voice quoting them as well, as they were also some of her favorites. That paragraph ends, “I am haunted by waters,” which I’ve always known to be true. But in that moment, hearing her voice over my own nearly took my breath away, and I felt myself gripping the side of the pulpit.
That evening I had dinner with friends as I stopped to break up the drive home. I didn’t explicitly say anything about it being dead mom day, but they are both in the dead mom club. So halfway through dinner, if I’d randomly started crying or decided to hide under the table, they would have passed napkins and ordered more cheese. I didn’t intentionally visit them because of dead mom day, it was truly traveling and geography that choreographed the plan. Yet there was something very comforting about knowing that if I did lose it in public, I would be with people who get it. And that was enough.
After dinner I had a glass of Mom’s favorite wine at a darling Airbnb, and it was the appropriate quiet ending to all the feels day. While I needed the guest rooms and people right next door at the hotel of Friday and Saturday nights, that night I needed to be alone to grieve, gaze up at the night sky, raise a glass, and remember.
The next morning I had a quick carpe-diem-while-in-town visit with a friend before a meeting, and was still very much in re-living that first Monday after mom died head space. I was genuinely interested in his life and everything he said, yet felt like I was in two places at once. As he showed me where he keeps something of my mom’s, I had that same feeling I’d had in the pulpit the day before where I felt the need to hold on to something. I’m sure I didn’t have the reaction he was expecting if he noticed I was thrown off, but I managed to say something about how I’m grateful he’s so appreciative and sentimental. During my road trip home I tried to remember if he and Mom ever met. They did. Once. At one of my birthday parties.
I spent my birthday weekend with friends who are family-some who knew Mom, some who didn’t-all of whom have been loyal beyond belief during my last 6 years of grieving the death of my mom and the death of my marriage. After laughing, crying, and eating all the avocado and Brussels sprouts, we went to see Mary Poppins Returns. Mary Poppins was my favorite movie growing up, and Mom loved all things Julie Andrews. I expected to love Lin-Manuel Miranda & Emily Blunt together, but I didn’t expect to weep. There’s a stunning scene where Mary Poppins sings Where the Lost Things Go to children grieving their mother, and the lyrics are one of my favorite birthday gifts.
Do you ever lie/Awake at night/Just between the dark/And the morning light/ Searching for the things/You used to know/Looking for the place/Where the lost things go
Do you ever dream/Or reminisce/Wondering where to find/What you truly miss/Well maybe all those things/That you love so/Are waiting in the place/Where the lost things go
Memories you’ve shed/Gone for good you feared/They’re all around you still/Though they’ve disappeared/Nothing’s really left/Or lost without a trace/Nothing’s gone forever/Only out of place
So maybe now the dish/And my best spoon/Are playing hide and seek/Just behind the moon/Waiting there until/It’s time to show/Spring is like that now/Far beneath the snow/Hiding in the place/Where the lost things go
Time to close your eyes/So sleep can come around/For when you dream you’ll find/All that’s lost is found/Maybe on the moon/Or maybe somewhere new/Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you
So when you need her touch/And loving gaze/Gone but not forgotten/Is the perfect phrase/Smiling from a star/That she makes glow/Trust she’s always there/Watching as you grow/Find her in the place/Where the lost things go
On my 7th birthday without the woman who gave me life, those words were “practically perfect in every way.” Because the ache of missing her voice, love, smell, laugh, and advice is extra consuming this birthday season. There’s so much I need to ask her and tell her. And that night especially, I could hardly stand that she wasn’t there to huddle under blankets with us to bask in the wondrous super blood wolf moon eclipse. She was fascinated with the moon, and would have been giddy over that glowing, star-studded night sky at the close of my birthday.
Some friends said their collective birthday wish for me is a significant other. (Evidently one of them also discussed this with Santa. It takes a village.) I’m all for it, but good luck to him living up to their standards, and holding his own in our hot mess but a good time tribe. Their excitement and quest is endearing, and I grieve said hypothetical significant other won’t get to have a relationship with Mom. One of them wisely said, “He won’t in the conventional way. But we’ll all be sure he knows about her. He’ll have you. And you are her in so many ways.”
Perhaps all we’re missing indeed lives inside of us. For we carry them, and are them, in so many ways as close as breath. So we revisit, revive, and remember. And invite others to huddle under blankets and travel with us where the lost things go. Those who get it will barely need time to pack a bag. Because our dream vacation is always to be reunited in the haunting waters or just behind the moon.
So close your eyes. Make a wish. As you dream, gaze up at the night sky to find them smiling from the stars they make glow. And savor their light by sharing it.