For My Mother
Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother’s passing. She’s been gone nine years. I took the day off from work because I wanted to carry her spirit with me throughout the day.
The pups got walked, and I took in the beauty that’s all around us this time of year. My mother was not a church-goer; she said nature was her cathedral. I wanted to be surrounded by the natural world—that was her world and deepest inspiration.
Yes, time heals. But I miss her. I miss her every day. I miss her realness and how easily she accepted me. It wasn’t the easiest of connections, but she was one of my greatest teachers.
Neither of us was perfect. We loved heatedly and fiercely, but we loved and we forgave. She let me know that it was okay to be human.
That being said, it’s hard at certain moments to forgive myself for some of the less-than-stellar experiences we shared when she was dying. Letting go was hard on both of us.
Many people watched us battle or laugh with total abandon throughout our last days together. I knew she would do anything for me and vice versa. I yelled at her and wasn’t too wonderful a few times when she was dying. I always felt mental anguish and apologized.
She said, “I know you are scared, so am I. My biggest fear is not being able to see your face ever again. Don’t apologize. You are you. Never change how passionate you are.” Let’s just say she, too, was easy to forgive. It was a tough but magical connection.
When I was little, I had a favorite pine tree in our backyard. I would climb to the top and swing from its branches. I never told her this, but one of the biggest gifts she gave me was the space she allowed for my childhood rituals and somewhat daring nature. Some moms might have been scared to see a six-year-old swinging upside down from 30 feet up. Not Helga.
That was her name, Helga. Let me paint a clearer picture for you: Helga was tough as nails, a ‘force of nature,’ as a dear friend aptly put it.
She had a deep German accent and smoked a pack a day. She loved gambling and bad television. She was blunt and gave you her unedited thoughts, and it was truly maddening. She was quirky, and I was mortified by some of her quirks.
But she also could express joy in a way that made her shine. She would get more excited at the sight of me walking through the door or the gift of soup or strawberry shortcake than a five year old. Her face beamed. What you saw is what you got. Always.
I look back from the summit of four decades plus and realize that she was a breath of fresh air. At her core, my mother had deep integrity and kindness. I sometimes wonder how much softer she might have been if she hadn’t endured a war in her country when she was a child and not seen things that children should never see.
I realize that her experiences, including not having food and witnessing deep suffering and great loss as a child, made her look and act formidable to some. But she was just more certain of herself and more firmly planted than most people I know. She stood by those she loved and insisted on telling her truth.
My mother’s dear friend, Tessie, once said to me, ‘Your mother was more there for me than my own family.” Tessie had a hard life, her husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 39, and he was not supposed to survive. My mother spent many nights at Tessie’s kitchen table, so that Tessie could visit her husband in the hospital and her children could sleep in their own beds.
“Those who judge your mother don’t know the real Helga,” Tessie said. Tessie is now dying and many childhood memories are making their way to the surface.
They were devoted friends, they showed one another a loyalty and devotion that was remarkable to witness. Helga was as committed to her relationships as the day is long and Tessie, who grew up in the Charlestown projects, would lie down on train tracks for someone she cared about.
They came from different worlds, but not really. I am mourning the passing of an era in my own life. I’ve been speaking with Tessie’s daughter, Liz, who was one of my closest childhood friends and is still one of my favorite people.
Our parents were so alike—they were dear friends. Together Liz and I have laughed at their quirks, commiserated over their shortcomings, and been moved by their strengths.
Coming full circle
There is an epilogue to the pine tree story. We moved from that neighborhood, and I grew up and life went on. Years later, I drove past the house and realized that my tree was gone. The people who were living there had cut down all of the trees. I started to cry. Shortly thereafter, I spoke with my dad, who said my mother had had the same response. In a choked voice, she had said, “They’ve cut down Heidi’s tree . . .”
The tender and gentler side of my mother was something my father always saw. I now get her innocence and big heart in ways I couldn’t always when she was alive.
When my mother was dying she said, “Always remember the good times. Think of the good times and go out there and live fully.” That is exactly how she lived. Whenever I talked about feeling guilt or holding on to a tough memory, she would say, “Let it go.”
I now view Helga as one of my greatest inspirations. Many times when I wonder about what to do, I hear her voice in my head. She knew what to do because she never abandoned her genuine self. She made no apologies and had the courage to be happy in the here and now.
Yesterday, I planted a lilac bush in her honor. It didn’t stop there. I also planted heirloom vegetables and signed up for a CSA.
And my mantra was deeply intertwined with all my mother wished for me; to pay attention to all that is real and brings you joy—and to move forward in that direction.
My mother's spirit was with me throughout the day and, as oftentimes happens, I found myself wondering/hoping that she knew how many times I think of her every day, how much her spirit lives on in me. I choose to believe she does know. There is an old English proverb: A falling leaf is a whisper to the living.
About Heidi Boone: Heidi Boone is a sales professional on the outside and a tree hugger on the inside. She strives for well-being at every level and blogs about her experiences with yoga, eating a largely plant-based diet, and exploring the many ways to make the journey both joyous and life affirming.