Seven years ago, Lucy Flowers died.
It’s taken a while for me to write those words in exactly that way – “Lucy Flowers died.” I’ve written about it on frequent occasion, but usually turn to euphemisms: “Left us.” I also employed “passed away,” “rejoined my father,” “passed on,” “shed this mortal coil,” “went to a better place,” “found peace,” “greeted the angels” and other Hallmark card turns of language.
The clinical finality of “Lucy Flowers died” was something I avoided because it sounded harsh, brutally so, and I didn’t want to admit to myself or to you that she had ceased to be a presence in my daily life. To suggest that a woman who was “dead” was with me when I shopped, took walks in the evening, worked out on the elliptical (smirking as she saw me sweat), tried to impersonate a competent cook and went about living seemed sepulchral and ghoulish.
But she is with me when I do those things, and she is dead, and that’s a fact seven years into my orphaned state. My mother had me when she was 22, and I had her until I was 52, so it might seem silly to compare myself to a foundling like Oliver Twist. But anyone who has loved and lost a mother understands that the umbilical cord does not thin with the passage of time, nor does it break. It becomes elastic, flexible, and stretches to accommodate the changes in the “child’s” life as he or she accumulates degrees and friends and love interests. It stretches to the children of those children, in a beautiful and mystical way. But it does not disappear.
We are always children, even when we are parents, even when, like me, we are alone.
I cannot even say that Lucy has been physically gone these seven years. When I look in the mirror a certain way at a certain angle, I see her. When I frown and grimace at fools, I perceive the same storm clouds in my expression that shadowed her beautiful brown eyes. When I laugh, I hear her own soprano tinkle, even though I’m closer to a sarcastic contralto.
In my house, there are pieces of her in almost every corner, things she made or photos and objects we purchased together and I inherited because I took them. I have a rosary that belonged to my grandmother, and that she kept in her handbag. I have some loose bobby pins that are worth 3 cents apiece but, because they held up her blue-black hair, are worth more than the Hope diamond. I have her recipe for pumpkin pie that she found in an old Philadelphia Bulletin column but changed so drastically that it became her own. I’m not giving it out, even though I can’t bake.
Seven years may not seem like a very long time, and in a way, they’re not. My father will mark 40 years “in Heaven,” “passed away,” and “in a better place” next May, and that is two thirds of my life on earth. But the seven years’ absence, the hole shaped like my mother’s smile, is harder to take. Daddy is youthful memories and childhood experience, internal Polaroids taken in that magical North Philly of my earliest consciousness.
My mother was my first half century, and I will not have a second. And she was there when the world collapsed around me, and helped pick up the pieces. My father, beloved and a legend, was in the web of dreams when that happened and could only guide by memory. My mother was there with arms, and food and sometimes brutal common sense. Those things I still miss, even though I am an aging woman and not a little girl.
I know that one of these days, I will see her again. Of that, I am certain. Of course, saying this doesn’t make the anniversary of her death any easier. Lucy Flowers died in the earliest hours of an August morning, the same month that she married her beloved Ted, the same month that the sweet dogs Chance and Sophie – who tried to fill the emptied house – were born.
John Donne wrote the holy poem that generations of grieving children have repeated to themselves at the deathbeds of their parents:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Seven years on, I can say that my mother died. Because now I know that what is gone is immense, what remains is substantial, and what awaits is everything.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.