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?