My mom died on February 4, 2023. Though she’d been declining over the past three years, when she left us it felt like a devastating earthquake, complete with aftershocks.
Six weeks later, my sister organized a gathering Mom would have enjoyed: a garden party and lunch with her inner circle of dear friends. She arranged with a garden center and gift shop Mom liked to frequent to use one of their outdoor green spaces. She ordered food and made decorations. Our family drove to San Diego to be there.
People were invited to share stories, so I racked my brain. I have so many impressions of Mom: things she liked or didn’t; what she’d say in any given situation; places we went together and things we did; things she gave me, most importantly, guidance for life. So many moments as scattered and lovely as the beach glass we collected together on our annual summer vacations in Pacific Grove.
I finally landed on a story. After I graduated from college, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a retreat with author Madeleine L’Engle at a monastery in Santa Barbara. A few of my friends and I planned to attend together, and Mom wanted to come. I thought it was pretty great that she wanted to spend time with me and my friends – Madeleine was a bonus – but that’s who Mom was. She liked hanging out with her kids and their friends.
One caveat: other than times in prayer with the monks and the couple of times a day Madeleine spoke, the retreat was silent. You have to understand that Mom and I could talk up a streak. For decades, we spoke on the phone most Sundays at 2pm and many days in between. Every time I visited our family home, we’d stay up until 2am discussing anything and everything.
Yet we’re both rule followers (unless we’re not), so we honored the silence and made wild hand gestures to communicate. On Saturday afternoon, Mom and I went for a hike through the monastery’s garden grounds. Santa Barbara is a Mediterranean climate, and we walked among swan-neck agave larger than the two of us put together. We pointed and pantomimed and posed for pictures. We laughed harder in our silence than at any out loud conversation I’ve experienced.
My sister told stories of Mom’s stint in her 20’s working for Hasbro Toys in Hong Kong, when they sized clothes to fit her petite figure before sizing them down for their dolls; and of walking for miles through December snow in Germany to visit a museum rather than getting back on a bus with drunk Germans celebrating a local sporting team. We both shared about our wonder woman Mom giving birth to her youngest child, our brother, at home by herself while our dad was flying as a Captain for Pan American Airlines.
Others shared stories of Mom’s glamor days as a Pan Am stewardess. Of the gourmet supper club Mom belonged to – a few times a year she would cook for days, stacks of cookbooks open and splattered throughout the kitchen, in a way she never cooked regularly. Of the Rocketts-style dance group she joined, the Symbelles, that fundraised for the San Diego Symphony. Of her hospitality and faithfulness, her connection with friends and neighbors, her creativity and sense of humor. Her strength and perseverance. Her beauty outside and in.
We heard stories often shared and others some of us hadn’t known. We filled in details of Mom’s life for one another. Together we wrote a larger story, embodying Mom with our words and joy-filled smiles. Sharing our stories – our individual and shared experiences with her – knit us together in a circle of love. Sharing stories elicited bubbles of much-needed laughter, laughter she shared with each of us.
Canadian writer Charles de Lint encourages us: “Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.” We need to hear one another’s stories, the ones only we can tell. I wasn’t sure which story to share until I recalled a story no one else could tell. Words will never suffice for how grateful I am to have shared in a storytelling circle that briefly brought Mom back to us in her delightful glory.
Five Minute Friday prompt: STORY