Blink

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I’m a child running barefoot through the grass with beads of sweat running down my back. It never dawns on me that my idyllic life will one day change. I live in the moment and enjoy each new day. I blink, and I am a skinny little spit of a girl just starting high school and dreaming of teenage years with all of the good times portrayed in the movies that I so love. I find myself working hard to learn new things that challenge me in ways that are wonderful. I blink, and it is graduation day and I am heading to college little realizing that it will be many years before I see many of my classmates again. I blink, and I have met the man of my dreams. I fall deeply in love and marry long before I should. It’s war time and things are so uncertain. I know that I must grab the golden ring while I am able. I stand at the altar and pledge my undying love. I am filled with so many hopes and dreams.

I blink, and I am expecting my first child. Even though I am barely out of childhood myself I am so ecstatic about being a mother. I talk to my baby even before she is born. I am naive about how much responsibility my new role will entail. I just know that I already love her and I have not yet seen her face. I blink, and she is running barefoot through the grass. I chase after her laughing and feeling so glad that I have these moments with her. I blink, and another baby is on the way. I love that my family is growing and I can’t wait to see my new little girl. I blink, and we are moving into our first home with both of our daughters, a toddler and an infant. I immediately fall in love with my neighbors. Somehow I know that I will be friends with them forever even though forever seems so far away.

I blink, and my girls are heading off to school. I wonder where the time went and how they grew so quickly. They are sweet and bright and they make me proud but I miss them when the house becomes so quiet. I go back to school again and use my free time to study and earn a degree. I blink and my eldest is entering high school while I have been a teacher for many years. I love the times when we share weekends with the good friends that we have made from church and school and the neighborhood. There is never a dull moment. We are always buzzing about. It’s so much fun and it never occurs to me that it may one day change.

I blink, and daughter number one is heading to the University of Texas for college. I don’t quite yet realize that she will never again be a permanent resident of our home. I focus on the second girl and love having her friends practically living at our place. Life is good. Work is good. Family is fabulous. I blink, and my eldest is receiving her college degree while the youngest is graduating from high school. I can’t believe that they are grown. Where did the time go? Where are those precious little babies that I held in my arms? How I love the young women they have become. How I miss the infants that snuggled and cooed.

I blink, and my eldest is getting married and moving out of the city. My youngest is studying at Texas A&M University. The house is so quiet. I have my work. It sustains me. I decide to go back to school for an advanced degree. I need to fill the vacant hours. I am not yet accustomed to such a quiet house. I spend more time with my husband. We fall in love again and again.

I blink and I am a grandmother of a new baby boy. I fly to the faraway place where he and his parents live. He is an angel and I love him so. I like to sit for hours just holding him and watching him sleep in my arms. My youngest daughter is in love as well and will soon be engaged. How is it possible that I have reached a time when my girls will be so independent? I work and begin to enjoy my students even more than ever. They become my new children, my extended family.

I blink and I am at the wedding of my youngest. She is moving all the way to Chicago. I now have two grandchildren from my eldest. Both of them are beautiful little boys. They now live close enough that I get to visit them all of the time. Life is good. Work is good. I have so much fun with my friends. I take my good fortune for granted and then I blink.

My family grows and grows. A set of twin boys from my eldest daughter delight me. Another set of twins, a boy and girl, arrive to my youngest. Not long after a little boy rounds out the crew. I can’t even describe how much fun I am having. I am so happy that I want the world to stop spinning. I don’t want to blink, but I must.

Death comes to visit us. My mother-in-law dies so unexpectedly. Dear friends leave this earth. I turn to my work as a distraction. I spend time with my own mother and my grandchildren to protect me from the sadness that I am feeling. The cycle doesn’t want to stop. One after another I lose important people and then I blink, and my mother is gone as well. I look up and my grandchildren are all in school. They are not babies anymore. My daughters are fine women who help me in my grief. My husband remains my rock.

I blink, and I am a senior citizen, retired from my teaching days and spending time traveling and writing and enjoying hobbies. My grandchildren are in college, high school, and middle school. They won’t stop growing, but that is not so bad because I am so proud of each of them. I keep in touch with my former students who truly are like members of my extended family. I smile at the photos of their weddings and their children. I enjoy hearing about their jobs and knowing that they too are just fine. I get back together with long lost friends from high school. I am amazed at how easily we reconnect. They look the same to me even though their hair is sometimes grey and their faces wear the wrinkles of time. I know that if I blink there is no telling what changes will come, but I have learned that each phase of life has the power to be grand. My life is unfolding just as it was meant to be.

My husband is still my best friend. These days we are quietly in love. We share all of those moments that came in between our blinks. We know that even the hard times have had a way of making us stronger and bringing us closer together. We’ve learned to dream a bit less and just enjoy whatever is happening. We walk through the grass in our bare feet and are able to see all the way back to our own childhoods. We blink and the world is a wonderful place to be.

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Stepping Back

earth-from-space-westernI possess a rather odd and illogical dread of odd numbered years. I suppose that my superstition began because almost consistently the most significant people in my life have died in a year marked by an odd number, or some especially dramatic and tragic event has taken place in times ending with a 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9. I quietly take a deep breath every other New Year’s Day and then heave a sigh of relief when we return to a reckoning in which an even number denotes the passage of time. I tend to laugh at my silliness and don’t really believe that there is some kind of curse on years not evenly divisible by two, but it’s a difficult  habit to kick when a coincidence of bad karma occurs again and again just as I feared that it might. God knows that this year of 2017 has been rather strange and difficult for virtually everyone, but there is in fact a silver lining that is almost always hidden in even the most trying times.

We have dozens and dozens of platitudes about our human resiliency and the notion that the hardest moments in our lives often bring out the best in us and the people around us. Loss and trauma are no small things and their after effects often linger for decades, but those also tend to be the very instances when the overwhelming goodness of humans becomes the most evident. It is when we feel as though we are in our lowest valleys of despair that we learn that we are not alone, for heroes appear of whom we were often not even aware.

I just finished Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I had never before read it because I was miffed that Mr. Albom had appeared to have created a best selling story that was similar to an idea that I had. I had to set my pettiness aside because two of my grandsons are reading the tale as one of the assignments for their English class. I sometimes help them to demystify the intricacies of literature and so I needed to be familiar with this particular book. I found that the theme and the writing style were far more interesting and less maudlin than I had supposed. The thread of the story reminded me that life takes so many unexpected turns that may seem negative at the time, but often contribute to our betterment without our even realizing it. It is when we are most challenged that we witness the true courage of the human spirit.

Nobody who is suffering really wants to hear that what they are enduring is God’s will or that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. In the midst of tragedy we are mostly overwhelmed and struggling just to make it from one day to the next. Sometimes it feels as though our entire lifetimes are riddled with challenges that keep us perennially weary. Like Eddie, the protagonist of The Five People You Meet in Heaven we may even feel as though we are dying a slow death. We fail to see what is really happening in our lives. We are so fixated on hurt and betrayals and losses that we never realize the thousands of ordinary moments when people are loving and sacrificing for us. We are driven to react more by the ugliness that we see than the goodness that is far more overwhelming. We become locked in a struggle to unravel the old conundrum of deciding whether the glass is half full or half empty.

As an educator I often encountered problems that were so trying that I began to question my abilities. I would stew over my powerlessness to reach the hearts and minds of everyone of my students. I tended to focus on the most terrible incidents of my daily routines in the classroom rather than recalling that I had done well more times than I had failed. Like most humans I was unforgiving of myself in my quest for a perfection that is in fact nonexistent. We innately know that none of us will get through life without enduring or even creating total mess ups now and again, and yet we upbraid ourselves for our very humanity. It takes a great deal of living and self reflection to ultimately learn how to be kind not only to ourselves but to our fellow men and women as well. The wisest among us are those who take the hard knocks without beating themselves just for being normal.

It has almost become a blood sport to criticize people and actions that we do not fully understand. We sometimes hide our own insecurities in a cloak of smugness, pretending to be more righteous than we really are. The best among us are less likely to do that, and we often secretly long to be more like them. We all know someone who seems to maintain an almost angelic optimism and an ability to keep a cool head when everyone else is melting down. If we take the time to learn more about such individuals we generally find that they have worked hard to be self aware and nonjudgemental. They actually choose to take life’s blows in stride. Theirs is a very conscious effort to stay calm and carry on even when the disappointments that they face threaten to push them into the abyss. They allow themselves to be fully human and to find the good that is always present even when it is unseen.  Nobody ever escapes the trials of life. There is no Garden of Eden anywhere, but there are ways to step back just enough to get a wider view of what is happening and to witness the big picture of the world around us. When we are able to do that we almost always see that we are surrounded by more love than hate, more goodness than evil, more hope than despair.

In an era when we feel as though the very earth is wobbling it is especially confusing. We worry that mankind has gone mad, and there is certainly evidence that a significant proportion of our species is behaving badly. Still we have to remind ourselves that the sun is still rising and providing a new day to set ourselves straight. We have to inhale and truly see the brave souls who wade through high water to rescue the stranded, the courageous who run toward the bullets to aid the wounded, the friends and strangers who surprise us with their largesse. We are essentially a human race with the same blood tracing through our veins, the same desires for happiness, the same generous spirits. We cannot allow the ugliness to overtake the beauty of who we are as people. We shouldn’t have to go to heaven to learn the important lesson that each of us has significance in the flow of history and that our collective impact on life is far more dramatic than we might ever have imagined.

Perhaps if we all were to become more self aware and more conscious of all of the people around us we might find more hope even in odd numbered years or stressful times. We would gain a more realistic perspective of what is really happening in the long run. We would realize that it is incredibly rare for anyone to be always bad or always good. We might begin to enjoy more moments of clarity and insight if we learned first to look for the true meaning of what it means to be human. We might even find that those platitudes that sometimes irritate us exist because there are grains of truth and wisdom to be found in them. Mostly we will find the peace we seek when we take more time to number our blessings big and small.

I always think of how confused and unpleasant the world may appear to be from the vantage point of being in the middle a crowd on a noisy street. If we instead travel into the vastness and solitude of outer space we look down on a blue planet that is stunning in its beauty. It is as though in seeing the entirety of the earth we are able to finally understand how remarkable it truly is. That is what we must also do in assessing both ourselves and our fellow travelers in his journey between birth and death. It is a breathtaking experience to see all of the events of our lives put together forming a whole. Look carefully and you will see how truly beautiful we are.

Big Girls Do Cry

woman-cryingI didn’t cry much when my father died, not because I had no emotions but rather because I somehow believed that I needed to stay strong for my mother and my brothers. I don’t think that it was particularly healthy of me to prevent the natural feelings that were causing me so much internal pain from becoming public. For a great deal of my life I have tended to be stoic. I’ve often put forth a strong face when what I really wanted to do was allow myself to sob. Over time I realized that tears and sadness are a natural aspect of our humanity that is to be celebrated rather than hidden. We are made to react to hurt and loss and pain with a release of our real feelings. Big girls really do cry and it is not just an okay thing to do, but a therapeutic release. When our minds and bodies urge us to set our tears free, we should feel comfortable responding to the instinct.

Of late I have been crying a great deal, but still not so much in front of other people. I’m in the process of becoming able to do that. It have been through a difficult three months as have so many. I find myself reliving the moment when my husband had his stroke, and I cry, mostly because I am relieved that he is still alive and thriving. I have cried almost every single day for the last month because invariably I see or hear something related to the horrible flood in my city, and I sense the struggles that so many are still enduring and will face for months to come. I can hardly watch the news reports of the conditions in Puerto Rico, a place that I recall being so friendly and beautiful. The images that flash across the screen are heartbreaking, and I feel helpless, so I cry. I have cried for my friends whose loved ones so recently died, as well as for those who are reliving anniversaries of their losses. I cried for my father-in-law who had an accident that has left him barely able to move. I shed twelve hours of tears while watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam that ran for the last two weeks on PBS. The memories of that era of my life are still raw with emotion and the poignancy of the presentation brought long past feelings to the surface once again. I have cried for the state of our country today which seems as divided and angry and confused as it did back then. Problems that I believed to have been solved were evidently just festering beneath the surface. All of it has made me feel weary because I know of no magical solutions to make things better, and so I cry.

I am by nature a peacemaker. I have always wanted to help people to get along. I have loved living the role of a supporter, a motivator, an inspirer. I feel uncomfortable when people are angry and fighting. I suppose that this is because I learned so long ago that our lives are quite fragile. We simply do not know from one moment to the next how much more time we have on this earth, and so I believe that we must make the best of however many hours that we have. My heroes have been individuals like my Uncle William who was the epitome of kindness. I would be quite surprised to learn of even a single time when he purposely set out to hurt someone. He was a man who mostly set aside his own thoughts and did his very best to consider the wants and needs and dreams of everyone else around him. He was always willing to listen and to love. In that regard as a child I viewed him as the strongest person that I ever knew, and even as I have grown older I still think of him that way.

I remember our neighbor Mr. Barry whom everyone seemed to regard as a living saint. There was nothing wimpy about him. He had served in the Navy during World War II. He managed a large bank for years. He knew how to get things done, but he always accomplished them with an eye toward being sympathetic and good. He was one of those people who noticed the individual who was unseen by everyone else. He didn’t know it, but he was the male role model that I needed after my own father died.

There is a tendency these days to admire people who possess what I call a false bravado, individuals who bully, blame others for their mistakes and take pride in demeaning those who do not agree with them. I personally find such folks to be offensive and weak. They remind me of a student that I once had who found joy in hurting other kids. When he went after a blind girl in order to increase his own popularity I put him down with a vengeance that I have never used on another student before or after. I was unwilling to allow him to parade like a champion when what he had done was so vile and cowardly. For that reason I have cried a  great deal of late, because our society appears to be mesmerized by those who behave the ugliest. It is something that I can’t understand.

Social media was a lifesaver during our Houston floods. I kept my sanity because I was able to stay in touch with friends and family members during the long days and nights when the waters filled our streets and homes. Unfortunately there is a negative aspect of that same wondrous means of communication that is hacking away at our decency. I suppose that it is simply too easy these days to dash off a quick and dirty reply to any person or situation that offends us. When we don’t have to look someone in the eye it is more likely that we will be willing to vent in ways that are hurtful. Too often we forget to think about how our comments may affect someone else. Too many among us don’t take the time to consider the impact of their words. When I see the fighting that ensues among people who were once friends and family members it make me cry. There is simply no reason for any of us to be hateful and yet even some of our leaders are not able to control their basest tendencies.

I am weary of hearing epithets of snowflakes, commies, ingrates, sons of bitches, entitled kids, abominable people, fascists, racists, homophobes, rednecks, ignoramuses. I listen as we devour one another with words and accusations that often have little or no basis in fact, and yet we speak as though they are gospel. I grow tired of seeing memes and tweets that trivialize serious situations or poke fun at entire groups of people. We seem intent on boiling a pot of furor, and so I cry.

I remember a time when I went on a civil rights tour with my students. We sat in the church in Birmingham where little girls were murdered because of hate. We crossed a bridge in Selma were fire hoses and snarling dogs had once been let lose on protestors whose only crime was asking for the same rights as their white counterparts. I walked down the street toward the capitol building in Montgomery and remembered the hateful rhetoric of  George Wallace. I cried as I looked at my students and remembered the violence and racism that I had witnessed when I was young. I stood in Dr. King’s kitchen and ran my hand across the very table where he sat and prayed for God’s guidance. I cried as I thought of his courage and wisdom and I knew that he too would always be one of my heroes.

I cry when I think of Jesus and the lessons He taught us, the sacrifices that He made. I wonder why it seems so difficult for us humans to follow His very simple message of love whether we believe He was God or not. What is it in our natures that makes us complicate and misinterpret His teachings? Why did we not learn how horrific hate can become from His death on the cross? What prevents us from being like my uncle or the man who was my neighbor?

As I grow older I find that I remember the kindnesses that were extended to me and I cry tears of joy and gratitude when I recall the people who touched my heart so beautifully. I also think of the ugly things that I have witnessed. They make me cry as well. I had hoped that we would be evolving toward a better way of living with one another by now. Unfortunately we are instead being taunted to take the low road, to dialogue with our fellow men and women with rancor rather than understanding. We give power to the rabble rousers instead of ignoring them and siding with those who would challenge us to bring out the good that resides in our souls. The fact that this is happening makes me cry.

I would so much rather cry over a beautiful sunrise or sunset. I want to shed tears when I see people helping people. I want to release those positive emotions when I watch a toddler so innocently embracing the world. I would prefer feeling a heave in my heart from listening to music or sharing a wonderful time with friends and family. I know that there will be uncontrollable events like natural disasters and deaths, but I am so tired of seeing the kind made by people. It really is up to all of us to begin to demonstrate the kind of understanding that was the hallmark of Uncle William’s and Mr. Barry’s lives. Those two men were so loved because they never hesitated to love. Perhaps the most telling story about my uncle came when he was delivering mail along the route that had been his for years. He came upon the mother of a notorious serial killer and the emotion that he felt for her was unadulterated love. He spoke of how sad it must have been for her to lose her only son under such circumstances. He did not judge the woman nor consider that she might have somehow been responsible for how her son had become. Instead he simply cared for her and worried about how she would be now that her son was condemned to prison for life. My uncle taught me how to love. I’m still trying to be as good as he always was and while I am learning I sometimes cry.

Bearing the Sins of Our Fathers

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I’m a bonafide Baby Boomer. I was born at the beginning of the Baby Boomer years. People in my age group were affected, and maybe even traumatized, by certain events that defined a great deal of how we see the world. Many of us were raised according to the recommendations of Dr. Spock. I know that I was. My mother often mentioned how he would suggest dealing with particular situations. We all remember crouching under our desks every Friday at noon in a drill designed to keep us safe in the event of a nuclear attack by the Russians. We remember Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe and banging it on a table at the United Nations and promising to destroy our country from within. The way we learned in school was reimagined after the Russians launched Sputnik. We are all able to vividly recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when John Kennedy was assassinated. The sound of the cadence of the drums at his funeral march still ring eerily in our heads. We saw the Civil Rights movement changing our country for the better and wished that we had been old enough to travel to Alabama to take part in marches of civil disobedience. Perhaps more than any other event, however, we were forever marked by the Vietnam War, a conflict that somehow both defines and divides us to this very day.

My generation paid little attention to what was happening in Southeast Asia up until I was in high school. We had been much more enthralled with the space program and the progress that we were making in journeying from our planet into the universe. Suddenly, in spite of our former ignorance, we began to hear more about a civil war in a faraway land and a supposed fight against Communism. We learned about the Domino Theory, a belief that if one country in Asia fell under the domination of communism others would follow and the boogie man of communism would be banging on our own doors. None of it had particular meaning for us until President Johnson began increasing our involvement in that conflict, and because there was a draft system all of the young men my age had to register for the possibility of involuntary involvement in the military.

By the time I was a senior in high school there were hundreds of thousands of US troops fighting in Vietnam. Some of the members of classes ahead of mine had already gone to war and a few of them had died. It was as though the world had suddenly blown up and anti-war fervor began to overtake the land. Some saw those who did everything possible to avoid the war as traitors and instigators. Others called soldiers who served in Vietnam baby killers. The evening news brought scenes of violence and bloodshed into our homes each evening. It was impossible not to have an opinion regarding the volatile political situation, and it was my generation that was caught in the big middle of a war being run by old men using young boys as canon fodder.

Of course that war did not end well. The United States eventually had to leave Vietnam without victory, an outcome that the French and British had predicted, possibly because they had endured similar situations in the past. North Vietnam took over the governing of the entire country. Dominoes did not begin to fall all over Asia. The world eventually settled down and forgot most of what had happened back then, but those of us who were intimately part of that history have never forgotten. We were all changed in one way or another by the Vietnam debacle. We have been unfairly judged on both sides of the debate by our elders and our children. We were teenagers and young twenty somethings who were asked to sacrifice for a cause that we now know even the Secretary of Defense did not believe would end well.

We began as advisors to the government of South Vietnam, a political machine that was at best riddled with problems and at worst was filled with graft. The conflict was a civil war among people attempting to decide their own fate. Our interference was never taken well and the anger over our involvement only grew when we appeared to be invading the country rather than just offering suggestions. The United States was so fearful of Communism that it allowed itself to become more and more entrenched until it ultimately appeared to be an actual war between North Vietnam and the United States. The truth was that the more we bombed and threw napalm, the greater became the distrust and dislike of our country. Sadly, the young soldiers who were the same age as I was became victims not just of the horrors of war, but also a backlash against them from their own fellow citizens. They were caught in a controversial middle ground that was quite unfair.

At the same time those who protested the war were accused of being disrespectful and traitorous, but in truth they were not unpatriotic. In fact they demonstrated love for their country in voicing their concerns, most of which have been shown to have been correct in retrospect. Private correspondence between Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson has revealed that there was indeed great worry that the war was being fought in vain and that our youth were being wasted on the battlefield. How awful to think that so many died when they needn’t have. How terrible to realize that the divisions that tore open a national wound should never have happened. It is detestable that the war continued mostly because nobody wanted to admit that they had been so wrong.

I was recently listening to an elder statesman who participated in both World War II and Vietnam. He felt that the most unfair outcome of Vietnam was the idea that the generation that fought against Germany and Japan was somehow more noble than those who went to Vietnam or their counterparts who stayed home and mounted resistance. He noted that we attempted to fight the two wars in the same manner when it was obvious that they required different tactics. He also defended the soldiers of Vietnam in noting that they were as good and courageous as their forebears had ever been. The only difference was that the leaders of World War II set up plans that worked, while the leaders of the Vietnam War made one mistake after another. He insisted that it is totally unfair to look upon the Baby Boomers as somehow less patriotic than their parents were because the circumstances were so very different.

We Baby Boomers were never the same after that war. It defined us in uncomplimentary ways. It was used to turn us against one another. We were pawns who have never quite been understood by either our elders or our children. It was run by a man who had been a systems analyst and who believed that it would be possible to create battle plans based on data such as tallying the numbers of those who died on each side. He neglected to take into account aspects of human nature until it was far too late. The entire rationale was built upon a false premise that left our country damaged. We are still attempting to reconcile the differences that tore us apart back then. As for the Baby Boomers, we have become symbols of failure and lack of character when we were not the ones in charge. We were simply the group that was used so that politicians would not lose face or power.

If there is one dream that I have it is not so much that we Baby Boomers will one day be vindicated, but that no other generation will be put through such a horrible introduction to adulthood ever again. Those who wield authority must always be conscious of the human cost of their decisions, and have enough moral character to be certain that no group will be so badly abused. If we are one day able to admit openly to past mistakes and reflect on how to avoid them in the future, then the sacrifices of so many Baby Boomers will not have been totally in vain.

Embracing Grief

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I have a memory of being very young and quite frightened as I sit on my mother’s lap. We are on a boat of some kind and I can feel the rocking of the craft on the waves. My mother comforts me as I cling ever closer to her chest. There are many people around and all of them are chattering and unwittingly making me feel quite nervous. The sea breeze is brisk and I don’t like the way that it stings my face, so I bury my head in my mother’s gentle caress. Suddenly everyone is moving toward the railing of the ship, even my mother who appears to be happy and excited as she carries me toward the crowd that is cheering and pointing at something that is confusing to me. Whatever it is seems gigantic and I don’t want to look at it, but my mother’s soothing voice convinces me that I am safe. I quickly glance just long enough to see a huge object seemingly floating in the water. Then the imagery of that long ago recollection instantly stops in my mind.

I have often wondered where I might have been on that day. My mother seemed to think that we were on a vacation trip to New York City. My vague description of my recurring vision led her to believe that I had somehow remembered going out into the harbor to view the Statue of Liberty. Still she had her doubts because I was well under two years old when we took that trip together, so she often mused that perhaps I was recreating an image from a movie that I had seen and attributing it to my own life. Somehow I believe that the incident was absolutely real and so scary to me that I was able to relive the scene even decades after it had occurred. Mostly my thoughts of that day are reminders of how safe and protected I felt in my mother’s arms, a feeling that never changed in all of the years that I have journeyed in this world.

Mothers have been on my mind of late. Three of my friends have recently lost their moms. Another is agonizing over the anniversary of her mother’s death a year ago. Her grief was renewed as the date that her mother left this world approached. In her honesty about her sadness and her descriptions of the wonderful things that she and her mother shared, I have found myself realizing that a mother’s love is unique in its intensity. A mom is eternally connected to her children in a spiritual way that transcends even death. I know that I have felt my mother’s enduring presence in my heart again and again in the six years since she has been gone. I find that I actually understand her more in her absence than I ever did when I was rushing around and taking her for granted. It is not difficult at all for me to identify with the men and women that I know who are filled with a mixture of sadness and joy as they are reminded of the unconditional love that their moms showered on them.

It’s funny how we find ourselves thinking of small moments that meant so much to us whenever we begin to think back on the influence that our mothers had on our lives. I always return to a cold February when I was nine years old and bedridden with a high fever and a measles induced rash. I felt weak and my head pounded incessantly. My mother kept me warm under quilts that my grandmother had made. She constantly checked on me and brought me cool drinks and homemade soup to keep me sustained at a time when I had no desire for anything other than sleep. Best of all she hugged and caressed me and softly assured me that I would soon be well again. Even in the middle of the night as I tossed and turned uncomfortably she was there watching over me. I needed her so, and she was my guardian angel.

Thinking back I realize that this happened only months after my father had died. Mama had somehow managed to create a safe environment for me and my brothers in such a short time. She had set aside her own tears and worries, at least on the surface, so that we might feel confident that all would be well. She must have felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities that had so suddenly fallen upon her, and yet she never let on that she was even remotely concerned. She threw herself into the task of parenting all alone, never even hinting that it might be quite difficult. All I knew back then is how much I loved her and how good she always made me feel.

Mothers can be such imperfect beings but somehow those of us who are their children ultimately see only the perfection of their love. They are our mentors, our muses, our cheerleaders, our rocks, our security. No matter how many mistakes that we make their love endures. They see us without the criticisms that others may heap upon us. They believe in us and want all that is best for us, but mostly they just want us to know that they will never leave us, so I always understand the profound sense of loss that occurs when someone’s mother dies.

Sometimes it is the other way around. A mother loses a child, an unnatural event that is capable of tearing a woman’s heart from her soul. I often think of my grandmother Minnie when my father died and the startling pain that remained etched on her face from that day forward. I thought of her when my friend Tien lost her baby boy Jhett. I sense that there are few greater tragedies than the untimely death of a child, and even though I have witnessed the great courage of those who have endured such misfortune, I also have seen their quiet desperation and undying love for the children who might have been.

It is important that we acknowledge the feelings of children who have lost their mothers, or mom’s who have lost their children. The mother/child relationship never really dies and so the emotions that surround the memories are raw and real. Our role as friends is to simply be supportive and willing to embrace the feelings that they have, no matter how deeply sad they may seem to be. In many ways the person who is willing to admit to their overwhelming emotions is actually just being honest. Our society tends to look away from grief and want people to pretend that they are stronger than they really are. Being able to admit to feeling crushed by loss is actually a healthy way of dealing with reality.

My mother was always the stoic, the person who gave the impression that all was well. I suspect that she did this to shield me and my brothers from the many worries that stalked her. When her mother died she finally decided to let all of the world see her true state of mind. She sobbed openly and spoke of her mom incessantly, so much so that one of her brothers cautioned her to get a grip on herself. By that time in her life she had been treated for bipolar disorder for many years. She went to her psychiatrist concerned about the intensity of her grief. He assured her that she was finally reacting in an incredibly healthy and normal manner and he congratulated her for learning how to deal realistically with the feelings that are so much a part of being human.

Yes, our mothers are such special people. They are our first teachers and the people who like us just the way we are. It is indeed perfectly natural for us to miss them when they are gone and to want to remember them, sometimes even with tears in our eyes. Be kind to those who have those moments of remembering how much they miss that relationship. It is something to honor and embrace. Be the person who allows them to express themselves. Be the person who understands. Help them to embrace their grief.