On Mama’s 72nd Birthday

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 72. It has been three years since she passed.

I found these technical college certificates while going through her belongings, and I scanned them for safekeeping. She loved learning, and she taught me to love learning too.

Certificate for 72 hours of instruction in DOS V6.22
Certificate for 44 hours of instruction in WordPerfect v6.1

I’ve been teaching myself how to code and use the command line. It turns out that she was way ahead of me with DOS. She was a claims representative for the Social Security Administration, and she always wanted to learn something to move forward in her career. When I’m working through online tutorials, I think of her. I think she’d be excited about what I’m learning.

One of the most challenging things about losing someone is that you don’t just lose the relationship in the moment—you also lose the future interactions. When my mom passed, that was the end of the relationship between us here on earth. I can’t call her or smoke another cigar with her. That loss is immediate and immediately felt.

But there are other losses that are perceived much later.

A few weeks before she passed, I had the opportunity to tell my mother that she would have a granddaughter. She was ecstatic. When I told her, all she could say was, “YES!”

My daughter received a porcelain play tea set decorated with pink butterflies for her birthday this past week. My mother loved butterflies, and I know she would have loved having tea parties with Zara. I also know that Zara would have loved her Grammy. It’s in realizations like that that I find I’m sad, not so much for what has happened, but rather for what will never happen.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes:

Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C,” while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B.” In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.1C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, A Harvest/HBJ Book (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960), 61.

I would have loved to see what facets my mother would have brought out in my kids and vice versa. I can imagine snapshots of cooking in the kitchen together, canning jellies and fig preserves, and making Tiger Butter for Christmas. I imagine a family trip to New Orleans where we, my parents, and my kids all go to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets just like I did growing up. I see my kids petting the nurse sharks at the Aquarium of Americas while I talk with my parents about the same trips that we made. I can see the contours of a memory that’s a mirage, a beautiful daydream that stops just short of being in focus.

I know that behind all this is a longing for things to be different. I wish that there had been more time for my mom to meet and know her grandchildren. I wish that my children would have been able to have first-hand knowledge of their grandmother. But that is not how the story has played out. The facts are what they are.

My mother also liked to look on the bright side. With each passing year, I see more clearly the beautiful influence she has had on my life. Her emphasis on education, her love for music, and her constant encouragement in my endeavors has meant more and more to me, especially as I’ve gotten older. There’s a lot about her that I failed to appreciate in my teen years, but now I see more clearly the gift for what it was. No parent is perfect, and my mother is no exception. She had a number of deep and glaring flaws. But I find that those matter less and less as time goes on, and what matters is that she loved and loved deeply.

And now I have the opportunity to share her story.

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