As another Mother’s Day approaches, some of us will wistfully recall moms no longer around. But before she died in 2008, my mother taught me a valuable lesson about the limits of living life in the rearview mirror.
A few years before she passed away, my mother sold the only home she’d ever known to move to a smaller place. She had been born in 1930 in the house she was leaving, grown to womanhood within its walls, then eventually welcomed a husband to the same address. There, they raised six children before she became a widow. With her nest emptied, Mama was downsizing.
As a child of the 1960s, I’d been raised in a culture that conditioned people to talk about their feelings. Dutifully, I waited for my mother to open up about the profound change in front of her. Over the next few weeks, as Mama matter-of-factly packed her things without shedding a tear, I naturally concluded that she was in denial.
“Aren’t you going to miss this old house?” I finally asked her. Mama looked at me quizzically, mildly surprised that a son she’d celebrated as smart had failed to grasp the point.
Her new house would be easier to clean and heat and cool, she slowly explained, and have amenities the old place couldn’t accommodate. And now, for the first time in her life, she’d be able to decorate her home just as she wished, without worrying about upsetting the precedents her own parents had set in her ancestral home.
“I’m sure, if I thought about it, that there would be things to miss,” she added, clearly losing patience with our improvised therapy session when there were still so many boxes to pack. “But I’m looking forward to the move.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mama had stressed “forward” in her response. Even in advanced age, she thought of life as something to navigate in drive rather than reverse. When the pastor of her lifelong church suggested that the parish needed a new worship building, Mama quickly agreed to be on the planning committee. Some of her fellow senior citizens grumbled about the prospect of trading the venerable sanctuary where they’d been baptized and wedded for a newer venue. Mama, who had the same personal history with the church, voiced a different view. “We need a new church because our congregation is growing,” she said. “That’s a good thing.”
In her final spring, Mama planned a trip to the Grand Canyon, scheduling a knee replacement beforehand so that she could walk more easily on her travels.
There was a rare complication, and she died during surgery. In our last conversation before the nurses wheeled her away, Mama was talking about her grandchildren and the sights she planned to see out West.
She died as she lived, looking ahead. This Mother’s Day, I will try to do the same.