Essential Creep

The author, looking a lot like Martha Nell

When my mother died, mysterious forces began to shape me in ways I am only beginning to comprehend. Whole chunks of her must have seeped into me as I sat, holding her hand and singing to her in the cheerless hospital room in which she lay dying. Because I did sing to her – Amazing Grace and Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child and May the Circle Be Unbroken. . . .

“I was standing by the window/On one cold and cloudy day/ And I saw the hearse come rolling /For to carry my mother away.”

I sang these songs not to comfort her. I don’t have a particularly pleasing voice, certainly not anywhere as good as the robust choir alto I had always envied her for. And neither of us was even remotely religious; if anything, we were defiantly irreligious, although we both confessed to a belief in Dog Heaven. (String Theory must be made to account for something. Why not Dog Heaven?) No, I sang her songs from the soundtrack of our lives, a compilation carefully selected to be appropriate to both venue and occasion and I hope, I really hope she heard me, although she might not have. By the time I arrived at her bedside, she had been unconscious for some time.

My point is that all the time I was singing, attempting to break through the dark wall to where Martha Nell still huddled, I thought I was on a one-way street – me trying to get through to her so hard that I guess I didn’t notice how hard she was trying to reach me.

I don’t believe in the wholesale transmigration of souls, but I have a hunch that something you might term ‘essential creep’ takes place when somebody dies. Call me narcissistic, but the fact of the matter is that I can neither imagine a time in which I won’t exist nor remember a time in which I didn’t. In that same way, I cannot begin to fathom how what was at one moment as real and powerful a being as I can conceive of – my marvelous, strong, beautiful mother – how SHE could exist one moment and not the next. Religious people have found a story to explain this particular thorny riddle, but I’m an Independent Traveler; I like to book flights and accommodations myself, on the Internet; I’m not interested in package deals or all inclusives. What I know . . . what I absolutely know is that my mother sure as heck went somewhere when she died and, looking back over the last five years, I’m pretty sure a substantial part of her relocated to yours truly.

Recently we hiked into Molokai’s Halawa Valley up through the rainforest to the base of a waterfall. In passing we had mentioned to our fellow hikers that we had come to that sacred island to heal after the death of our beloved golden retriever. Later, one of the women took me aside and said, “We’ve had four goldens and this is what you must do as soon as you are able: you must get another one. The breed is so distinctive that, even though it isn’t the same dog, it’s close to the same. By the time you’ve noticed that your new dog has his or her own personality and is not a reincarnation of your previous one, you’ve fallen in love all over again.” That lightened our hearts considerably; maybe, just maybe we hadn’t lost Buddy. Not utterly. Not entirely.

And maybe I haven’t lost Mom. Maybe she’s right here inside me, more so every day. And how not, when you think about it? We are, after all, representatives of the same breed.

Now, where did I put my knitting?

12 thoughts on “Essential Creep

  1. Jane Voitle Mellin says:

    This is truly beautiful and fiercely imaginative.

  2. Frank Luck says:

    Dear Melissa,

    Martha Nell left a little piece of her soul in everyone she met. She was a generous and loving Mother to you and the rest of us in Cherokee and Chapel Hill. I’m glad you are writing again (as if you ever stopped. Be well.

    Love,
    Frank

  3. Mary Jeffcoat says:

    This is such a gift, Melissa. I loved your mother very much, admired her talent and was always awed by her grace and kindness. And her wit. And that, even more than being a brilliant teller of tales, she was most of all the teller of truths. How could we not cling to the parts of her she shared with us? I know she lives, will always live, in you…and perhaps in each of us she touched.
    I’m heading to bed now…reading Broken Road, which is tormenting me terribly. I want to read it quickly, to know what will happen next; have to read it slowly, though, to savour the strong and beautiful words. Thanks, Melissa.

  4. Carol Ponder says:

    Oh, Melissa, as a fellow Traveler on the spiritual but dis-religious road, I can easily imagine that much of your mother is in and with you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I believe that we are all connected – sort of a relaxed Episcopalian pantheist with druidic leanings – and that Martha Nell (aka Mama Nell) is present in not only our hearts and our memories, but also in the ether – or whatever one chooses to call the energetic material that makes up our universe. Keep well. And “hey” to Peter.

  5. That was lovely….my mother is very ill and I found what you said very comforting. I do not know what life will be like without her…yet.

  6. McCrae Hardy says:

    Oh, Melissa

    it’s not nice to make me weep while watching the kids romp at Chik-Fil-A.
    I think I got a small part of her, too. There certainly was/is a bug place in my heart she always occupied. Although she wasn’t my “real” mom, Martha Nell probably had more of an influence on my life than probably anyone else. She really saved me at a dark time when I thought it pointless and too painful to go on. And that was over thirty years ago.
    Thanks for sharing.
    With love,
    McCrae

    • Sorry about that, McCrae. I’ll always remember Mother turning to me backstage one time when she was about to go onstage and saying, “This is when we make them cry!” I know that you were one of her very favorite and most dear sons, however unreal you might have been.

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