It’s been a busy week of taking back May! For those of you who are new to this project, you can click here to read more about the purpose of Operation Take Back May. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
May 6th and May 10th: Spreading love
My mom was always good at making people feel appreciated and loved, and with graduation approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to take the time to thank the people who helped me get where I am today. So on these two days, I took some time out of my day to write letters to the people who have impacted me and let them know how much they are loved and appreciated. Yours might still be in the mail! 🙂
May 7th: Old haunts
On this day, my dad unexpectedly participated in celebrating Mom when he suggested that we stop for lunch at a locally owned sandwich shop and store in our town called Merritt’s. Not far from my mom’s work, Merritt’s is where we would stop on Saturdays when I was too young to be left at home and had to go to work with her. I remember taking a lot of time to deliberate over my choice of ice cream flavor while Mom would catch up with the owner, Robin. I’m pretty sure we even befriended a homeless cat in the back of the parking lot who was always there as we ate our treats and seriously contemplated taking it home. Coincidentally, we learned that Robin actually recently passed away from cancer. Robin used to always ask about my mom’s health and was just one of those people who becomes a part of your life over the years because she just cared. So as my dad and I enjoyed our BLTs, we reminisced about coming here with Mom and how wonderful it is to have good friends around town like Robin who have the ability to form connections with anyone and just genuinely care.
May 8th: Gardening
My family and I have a confession to make: in the past three years since Mom passed away, we have not once touched her gardens. If you knew my mom and the amount of time and love she poured into her flowers, you can fully appreciate how great a travesty this is! Although the beds have become overgrown with weeds, we often laugh about how she must have intentionally planted resilience into the soil along with her flowers because we are constantly surprised by how many flowers and plants continue to thrive.
In preparation for my graduation party, we decided it was time to tackle the garden. We spent most of the day outside weeding the flower beds and cleaning up the yard. I’m sure she was laughing at our incompetence as we tried to figure out which ones were weeds and which were actually supposed to be there! It was just fun to spend the day together as a family doing something that brought her so much happiness and reminded me of all the afternoons we spent together in our yard.
May 9th: Mom’s day
As I explained in my last post, this day was devoted to just living as fully and honoring everything related to Mom and this journey as much as possible. I drove to the beach with my cousin, explored some local shops that she would have loved, and ate a lot of mashed potatoes (one of my favorite foods she used to make). We told stories about her, remembered the last time we were all at that beach together, and wondered at how powerful time can be. It was a day of missing her but feeling truly grateful that we were given the chance to be a part of her life.
May 11th: A picnic
I graduated from college on Sunday! When my dad and I were discussing what kind of graduation party I wanted a few weeks ago, I told him that I wanted it to be like a picnic. Since graduation was also on Mother’s Day, I wanted some part of the day to include my mom. On our last Mother’s Day together, I really wanted us to have a picnic in her garden. I don’t know why or where I came up with the idea, but I guess I just wanted us to be able to spend that last Mother’s Day in a place that she loved. I envisioned us taking pictures, pictures that I knew would be our last together, and preparing a special meal for her. Unfortunately, she was stuck in the hospital that day and spent most of the day asleep. And even though I was old enough to understand why we couldn’t have it, the fact that we weren’t able to have the picnic was something that I held on to for a long time. So, three years later, we finally had that picnic. There was good food, great people, music and dancing, and twinkle lights in the trees. It was the perfect way to celebrate four years of hard work and add my mom’s spirit to the party.
May 12th and May 13th: Lazy days
After days of celebration and time with family and friends, it was time for a rest. I curled up on my bed with a book and spent these two days reading and enjoying post-grad life. I definitely think I acquired this habit of needing to recharge and spend time alone from my mom. We would have lazy Saturdays where everyone would just pick up a book and read. As I got older, my mom and I would swap books and talk about them, kind of like our own little book club. Whenever I read a book for leisure, I always think about what she would think about it and what I would share with her.
May 14th: Piano
I took piano lessons for about 10 years growing up and it was one of my favorite extracurricular activities. When I came home for the summer after my freshman year of college, I eagerly anticipated being able to play the piano again and knew which pieces I wanted to work on over the summer. After my mom passed away, however, I just couldn’t bring myself to touch the keyboard. The piano was in the room that became hers when she got sick and I spent many high school afternoons playing for her. It just hurt too much to sit in that empty room and it took too much energy to learn new pieces. Since that summer, I avoided the piano because I thought it would still be painful and quite frankly, I was too busy. But playing the piano is such a great reminder of her; when I was little, I used to watch her hands fly over the keys and I thought she was just the most talented, magical person ever to produce such beautiful music. I would sit on her lap and she would help me pick out a tune. From the age of five, I begged my parents for piano lessons because I wanted to be just like Mom, who had also grown up playing and even went to a piano conservatory while in college in Paris.
It felt strange to be sitting down at the piano again. It’s a corner of the house that I know so well but I haven’t sat there in four years. It brought back so many memories of growing up sitting on that piano bench, playing while Mom sat on the bed knitting. Sometimes I would get frustrated and bang on the keys angrily and I remember how she would just tell me to start again or help me get the rhythm right. I went through some scales and my old music that I found, and then I started working on a new piece, a waltz by Chopin. Before I knew it, two hours had gone by. Every day since, I have spent a little time at the piano; it’s like meeting an old friend.
May 15th: Dancing in the rain
Yesterday, it poured rain. My mom always appreciated a good rainfall but I wasn’t really sure how I could incorporate it into my Take Back May plans. As I looked out the window, I suddenly remembered exactly what I would have been doing in this weather fifteen years ago. When I was very young, like under the age of seven, I was enthralled with the rain, so much so that I wanted to be a part of it. I don’t know when it started, maybe around the age of 2, but I would take off all my clothes and go outside and play in the puddles and dance in the rain. My mom told me later that at first she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to let me do this as a responsible parent. But we lived in the woods far away from any neighbors and so she finally decided there couldn’t be any harm in letting a three year-old run around naked in the rain. I’d like to think that it was good for her heart, strained by the trials and stresses of adulthood, to watch her daughter take such pleasure in playing in the rain in the most natural state one can be in.
Rest assured, I was not running around my yard naked yesterday afternoon. But I did grab an umbrella and run outside into the pouring rain. I walked through the gardens and through the trails in the woods. I watched water rushing in the creek, stuck my toe in the water and felt its crispness. I splashed in puddles and listened to the satisfying splash they made. And then I ran back inside when I got an emergency alert on my phone warning me about tornadoes.
Even though it was cut short, standing in the yard in the rain triggered so many happy memories of simplicity and childhood bliss. My memory seems to tell me that this nude rain dancing stopped around the time my mom got sick the first time, when I was seven. Life suddenly got more complicated, with doctor appointments, hospital visits, and shuttling kids around. Life got scary and inexplicable, and all of a sudden the darkness of those rain clouds seemed uninviting to my seven year-old self. Or maybe it was simply the product of growing older and becoming more self-conscious and aware that such behavior is not really encouraged in society. Whatever the reason for the end of my rain dances, it will forever be a memory belonging to a distant past, before I became aware of the harsh realities of the world.