It’s Mom’s Birthday today.
While it was my father whose name I share, I feel that it’s fairer to liken me more to my mother.
In me is her innate stubborness, and outspoken outlook on the world, along with the need to poke a finger at something that’s not quite in sync with our specific world view at the time. That’s certainly not my dad. It was my mother who ostensibly wrote out the license that made me who and how I am–for better or worse.
Now even though Kate knows her other grandmother, and great-grandmother, she will not meet still another grandmother, my mom. As a result, as she has gotten older, and has found her place amongst my side of the family, it is not for a lack of trying that she is getting a chance to know her. I am seeing to that. I can’t conceive of Katelyn knowing me without including my mom somewhere in that narrative along the way.
At first it was little things, like bringing home one of mom’s old seat cushions that she used to use to sit up in her bed to watch television. It was telling her stories about how my mother used to put me to sleep when I was little, wrapping me “just so” in a blanket, that guaranteed to me conk out quickly. So successful was this story that Katelyn started to demand the same with her favorite blanket, and specifically asks for me to wrap her “like Grandma Mary”. And, just like that, Katelyn began to ask more and more questions about my mom, who, despite having been gone now for 4 1/2 years, is starting to earn a place with her granddaughter.
It was partly because of “Up”.
The Pixar film, for so many of it’s virtues, has managed, in the manner in which it confronts life, death, and grief, to convey to a 4-year-old what it means to have loved and lost, as well as how to carry forward. Because while she can’t ask Carl Fredericksen how he felt about losing his beloved Ellie, Katelyn can ask my father, her grandfather, what it was like to have known her grandmother. And he would know. For whatever reason, in the film’s brilliance, Katelyn now has the scaffold to pursue a relationship with someone, under other circumstances, would have come to be an important presence in her life.
Suffice to say, a late August trip to the family cabin in the local mountains brought numerous opportunities for Katelyn to ask my dad about Mom. Her pictures, thanks to my sister, were in the hallway, along with photos of us as our younger selves. But for me, there were also little touches and small items that could only be my mother’s handiwork. Unlike my parent’s home, which has come more to resemble a home for a neat elderly bachelor, the cabin still betrayed my mother’s presence. I got the sense that Kate felt it also, and the overall experience only added to her genuine curiosity to know someone who would have loved her dearly had she been given the chance. Which, coincidentally, is something my father actually told Kate out loud at around the same time.
Bringing my mom to life for my little girl has helped me–at last–close out my own grief process; finishing the “steaming bowl of sadness” (in author Ralph Fletcher’s words) that seemed to be a companion for far longer than it probably should have been. It’s still not gone completely. I don’t know if it ever does leave all the way. But Katelyn is now getting to know her. And, most importantly, Katelyn wants to do so. I think it’s a birthday present that Mom would have liked.