This week, our major household task has been to go through a couple thousand books we have accumulated (say what you will, but it actually used to be more!) and rearrange them to fill the beautiful new bookshelves that my husband has just finished building.
This has mostly been a pleasant task, but I’ve been surprised by how emotional it has been, because one component of the task is integrating my mother's books with ours. Like us, my mom had thousands of books, and we took only a fraction of them when we cleared out her house after her death. We only brought home books with particular sentimental resonance, either because they were signed by Mom’s favorite writers or had been given as gifts.
Sitting in the basement sorting through these treasures, I was doing reasonably well until I found a book I’d given Mom one year for Mother's Day. Tucked inside it was the Mother's Day card I had sent her the year that my daughter was born. In it I thanked Mom for all those thankless things she’d done for me when I was a baby: the feedings, the illnesses, the sleepless nights. (You never really appreciate your parents until you have a child of your own.)
Finding that card was a terrible moment, and I sobbed at the realization that she had so cherished my words, and that I could never speak with her again. But there was a piercing sweetness in my grief, a gratitude that I held nothing back in my relationship with my mother. When there was loved be expressed, I said the words. I gave the hug. That’s not to say I didn’t also sometimes speak words of irritation and frustration about how Mom didn’t take care of her health or her cluttered house. But there were also many words of love.
One of the other things I discovered that evening was the copy of Flunking Sainthood I sent my mother when the book was first published in 2011. The inscription was:
"For my mommy, with all my love and gratitude. Thank you for being the wind beneath my wings."
I cried when I read that, too.
So Lesson #1 from my week is to say it now. Speak the words of love your family needs to hear.
And Lesson #2 is to take the trip, make the memory, find the time.
Two years ago this week exactly, my husband, daughter, and I went on an Alaska cruise and persuaded my mom to come. It was a decision made in a very spontaneous fashion.
"We are going on an Alaska cruise in 16 days!” I told her excitedly on the phone. “And guess what? You are coming too!"
My mother demurred. It was such short notice, it was so far, she wasn't sure that her health would allow her travel on an airplane for that long, etc. But one by one, I met her objections with a plan of action. (I am very ruthless sometimes.) She had little choice but to say yes.
Now, when I look back I am filled with gratitude that we simply did It. We took that trip, even though there were a million logistical and financial reasons not to. And we had one of the best adventures of our lives. Going to Alaska was something that my mother had wanted to do when she first retired, and had set as a goal for herself. But as her health worsened, she didn't think she would be able to take that trip alone. She wound up being very glad that we could all do it together.
So here is what I am thinking about this week as I come to terms with the memory of our wonderful trip two years ago, and I slowly integrate my mother’s favorite books with my own: Do it now. Say it now. All of those clichés about life being short became clichés because they are all too true.
There is never a better time to show love than right now.