I went up to Peyton's Hill the morning of Mother's Day. I needed to be near her. I needed to tell her how much I love her, and miss her. How grateful I am to her for giving me the gift of motherhood. I feel the need to do this every day, but Mother's Day makes missing her especially hard.
I walked up to her grave and commented on the weather. I apologized for the sad state of her site, and remarked about the newest pinwheel we had placed up there, which had already gone missing. It gets very windy on Peyton's Hill, so I imagine a good gust came along and was just too much for it.
I stood for a while, breathing the place in. I watched birds in the trees, closed my eyes, and tapped my chest in the spot where her back used to be when she fell asleep against my chest. In the silence of her Hill, I began singing "Smile Awhile," one of the songs from my repertoire when I had rocked her in the hospital.
It's a World War I song about loss.
Most of the songs I sang Peyton were about loss.
Maybe I just knew.
Smile awhile and kiss me sad adieu
when the clouds roll by I'll come to you
then the skies will seem more blue
down in lover's lane my deary
wedding bells will ring so merrily
every tear will hold a memory
so wait and pray each night for me
till we meet again
Halfway through my song I was approached by an older woman. She looked disheveled, as if the day had snuck up on her somehow, and was covered in dirt from flower pots that she held in her hands. I recognized something in her. Something I had seen in myself so many times before. She looked neither present, nor lost. She just was.
We got to talking and she pointed out her son's grave. I knew her son. His name was Mike. He was paralyzed, wheelchair bound after a freak construction accident, and used to walk his dog around the path at the cemetery each afternoon. Mike, G, and I were a sort of lonely hearts club. Three outsiders with broken hearts who had nowhere else to turn for relief but a cemetery. Mike died suddenly last year. He got the flu and aspirated when he vomited in his sleep. Mike wasn't even forty years old.
His mother told me she had come up to plant some flowers around a bench she had placed on the Hill.
"It was your idea you know," she said, "I hope you don't mind."
The idea to get a bench up on the Hill was one that came to hubs and I early on, but the months had passed, and then the years, and the truth is I didn't know when we were going to get around to placing one up there. We had mentioned the idea to G who had mentioned it to Mike's mom, and when I came up last fall to find her bench placed, I was happy to see it.
I told Mike's mom how sorry I was for her loss. We got to talking, and talking led to crying. She was really suffering through facing Mother's Day without her son.
"I can't make it through a ride in the car," she told me, "without breaking down. I cry all the time. I feel his loss all the time."
I nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. So many car rides these past two and a half years had been spent crying tears of sorrow and loss for my little girl. So many songs on the radio had triggered emotions in me, or felt as if they had been somehow sent directly from her.
"And I know I sound crazy," she continued, "but sometimes I get little signs from him."
"Funny things happening with lights?" I asked.
She looked at me, mouth agape. "How did you know?"
"It always seems to have something to do with lights," I smiled. "If you feel something happening, and you think it is Mike, cherish that. Who is to say it isn't him?"
We exchanged stories about funny little occurances that we felt were gifts from our children. Flickering flashlights at my house. A solar light that suddenly became aglow on her birthday at hers.
"Was Mike your only child?" I asked.
"My only son."
"I'm so sorry."
She looked at his grave and let out a deep sigh. "I am just so afraid people will forget about him."
"I won't forget him." I offered, knowing this feeling too well, this fear that my child will be forgotten. That there will come a day where this earth rotates as if she had never even existed.
Talking with Mike's mom showed me how many commonalities there are in the grief of one's child. It doesn't matter how old they were when they passed, though losing a baby is certainly different than losing a teenager and that is certainly different than losing an adult child, there are certain common threads to the grief of a mother.
Mothers cannot let go.
Mothers always hurt.
Mothers feel the absence of the child they have lost all the time, and strive to feel their presence in whatever ways we can.
Mothers all share the great fear that our children, their lives, and their impact on this great wide world, will be forgotten.
To lose your child is to forever lose a piece of your own soul.
As mothers we need to protect our children.
As bereaved mothers we need to protect their memories.