We lost our mother just over two years ago. The visceral feel of her hand in mine as my sister and I sat at her bedside in Norwalk Hospital belies the passage of so much time.
I went to the cemetery a few days before the anniversary. I never go on prescribed dates but more when the – or her – spirit moves me. She lies next to my father who is now gone almost 14 years. He picked the spot on the farthest side of the space, in the shade. But that shade had of late become a tangle of vine-laden dead trees that threatened to swallow up the landscape below. As I drove up I could see that someone had finally decided to trim the impending collapse of the haunted forest it had become, but rather than remove the considerable pile of debris, they left it to rest with my parents. Or more precisely, on my parents. And all their eternally resting neighbors. I was horrified. I could not approach their headstone for the thorny gauntlet of mangled branches. The chainsaw cuts told me that the mess was not fresh.
I took in the disrespectfully dumped detritus and picked my way around to the back of the headstone to leave the customary stone calling cards for both of them, imagining my father’s horror at the spectacle. But my mother would say, “It’s ok, honey, someone will take care of it soon. It’s not really bothering us, is it?” I finally had to smile, thinking about her loving and forgiving perspective.
When I got back in the car, though, I felt the inability to reach them acutely. I usually take comfort from my visits, but this one unsettled me and left me feeling more separate than ever. I called my sister in tears.
On the second anniversary of her death, Suzanne and I set out to celebrate with chocolate in her honor. But we stood dumbstruck at the door of Chocopologie. The dark storefront showed no signs of life beyond the panes. A quick Google check showed “permanently closed.” Gone forever. Another obstacle in our efforts to cling to some thread of connection. We rallied, though, and set out to Sono Bakery in search of cocoa. We talked about and toasted mom as we made our way through a mountain of confections. Her sweetness infused us.
Later that afternoon a friend and I went to see A Man Called Ove at the Garden Cinema. We are usually the youngest audience members at these late matinees, as we were that day when we sat down in front of two older women. “That’s Barbara’s daughter,” I could have sworn I heard one of them say, but I just thought I must have had my mother’s name on my mind. But my friend Stacey nudged me. “Those women are pointing at you. They said you were Barbara’s daughter!”
I turned to see Carol and Ellie, two of my mother’s close friends from Oronoke Village in Stratford, where she lived before moving to Florida full time several years before she died.
“It’s you, Diane!” Carol said. “I can’t believe it!”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “What are the chances of meeting you here today of all days. She died two years ago. Today.” I told them.
“I can’t believe that,” said Carol. “I think about her every day. She gave me a woolen shawl of hers that I loved. I wear it at home all the time.”
“I think about her every day, too. That doesn’t surprise me. She sat in that hospital bed and asked that we give something of hers to each of her friends. She was making lists until she couldn’t write any more…”
I thought about her sitting up in the hospital bed with a small notepad they’d given her, assigning cat mugs to one person, nesting dolls to another, making us acknowledge and promise to carry out each bequest.
“She was really special,” said Ellie.
We all nodded, a bit lost in our own memories.
“I am so glad to have seen you today,” I said as we turned to sit. “What were the chances?”
Stacey echoed my sentiment, amazed, “Really, what were the chances? That’s your mom!” I texted Suzanne before the movie started. She texted back, “that’s crazy!”
But maybe not so much, I thought. I’d approached the anniversary lamenting the loss and lengthening distance from her that it marked. Somehow the coincidence of her friends coming to that theater, having driven for 40 minutes to see that showing of that movie on that day, reminded me that time and distance can nurture as easily as destroy a strong connection. A little chocolate doesn’t hurt either.
Photo courtesy of the author