Posted by casey on May 8, 2010 in Grieving My Way, Writing Nook

Recently, another friend of mine joined the club no one ever wants admittance into.  That is how Colter’s Aunt described it when her mother passed away, and then mine I still think it really is the perfect description in a way.  You have this somewhat eery thing in common, a basic understanding of the loss felt and the wound that is left no matter what the relationship was like because we are all daughters without their mothers, family members with someone missing.  I have written many posts about her, and the steps we have taken through grief over the past three years and this new loss got me thinking again a bit.  Awhile ago, I wrote an essay for a magazine that no, did not end up a published essay but was fun to write something towards the theme of a “prompt” instead of my usual rambling such as this.  I was supposed to write to the question of “When did I first know I was an adult, or had become an adult?”  Seeing as how it is Mother’s Day weekend, and both this friend and I are celebrating our first Mother’s Day while working to not let it be overshadowed by the bittersweet feelings of the sheer title of the day, I thought I would finally share this with you all.

The answer to the question asked, was not as quick and simple as you might already assume you know the answer. 
Once I sat down and thought about it, the answer changed, and morphed into what I really thought the truth to it was.  Enjoy!

A Full-Circle Family


untitledCleaver family I believe they were called.  Yes, June, Ward, Beaver….you know, that All-American, white picket fence owning, sitting down to dinner each night, nuclear family.  That was us.  By us, I obviously mean my family who was tagged with that ideal label as far back as I can remember.  We might as well of had a handwritten sign that said “Perfect Family” glued to the back of our shirts so that kids from all those other jealous families would have something to laugh about.  Homemade snacks after school? You bet, every day.  Road trips for weekend camping? A key to childhood everyone should experience.  Loads of traditions at every holiday, including St. Patrick’s Day?  I mean, you wouldn’t want to not celebrate a holiday.  Who else is going to set up a trap every year to try and catch that little leprechaun?

What our society deems as the idyllic, model family, I grew up with.  I had the hardworking father who woke up early to roll up his sleeves and battle the corporate world each day to provide for us and came home to chase and tickle us with his “whiskers”.  The doting mother who yes, worked, but on top of that, the house was always spotless, dinner ready to go and all school functions volunteered for with her name at the top of the list.  The bonus family member who completes that mental picture of us standing outside a beautiful suburban house hugging each other, was my big brother.  My big brother who loved to torment me by literally picking me up by my ankles or pointing his finger as close to my face as possible so that he couldn’t get in trouble for touching me.  He just wanted to see on many occasions if I would burst into tears. (I usually did, but sssshhhh don’t tell.)  Regardless of his evil doings, he was my brother and there we were, Mom, Dad, one girl, one boy all set to take on the world.

We as a family were a well oiled machine.  Not the type of machine who ran solely on chore lists and rules, but genuine love.  We all knew our roles and how to help out but because we wanted to make it easier on someone else in the family not because we had to.  I know, you are thinking that no child actually wants to help out around the house but you see, we moved A LOT.  We spent a great deal of my youth moving from house to house, city to city and life to life, TOGETHER.  Let’s see, there was Statesboro Drive, Lakeshore Drive, Jackson Oaks Drive, Woods Lane (finally a lane for a change) and Hacienda Way.  If you count college there was also Mosher Circle, Olympia Way, Park Place and Pintail Lane. Yes at the age of fourteen for example, when everyone has established friends and believes they are “at the top of the school” starting over is a self-proclaimed nightmare.  A nightmare that always slowly settled down as the drama we concocted was blended into new friends, activities and of course, a new home. Since we moved A LOT, we only had each other to depend on for large chunks of time during these frightening child transitions until that drama did settle down.

Home, as most people think of it is a boxlike structure that protects you from the elements. The place that gives you comfort and safety , where you stash your belongings and prized possessions.  It is where the walls hear your secrets and contain your memories for the years that you reside there.  For us, home is where we were.  The possessions changed, the address changed, but the family did not change.

This grinding, machine of a family could set up and take down a home like it was nothing and my mother was able to turn anywhere into a cozy, cinnamon smelling home. My mother.  The rock.  The heart of the machine.  Due to all of these moves as a family, my mother and I became inseparable.  We were friends because she was a good mother not because she tried.   We were raised with good ol’ Southern values, the amazing concept of respect and respecting your elders (if only it was still around) and yes the ability to pitch in and put in some elbow grease. That alone, turned she and I into twins from different generations.  I can honestly say that we completed each other and were truly half of the other.  Then, she died. mom

Do you need to re-read that last line?  I will give you a second to do so.  Still thinking about it?  Here I will repeat. She died. She died. She died. I kissed her on the cheek one day and a pulmonary embolism took her the next.  There I was, a twenty two year old senior in college, newly engaged “woman” who had just lost her best friend and in twenty seconds had become the matriarch of her once nuclear family.  The well oiled machine was sitting in a heap of steaming parts unsure how to work without a heart at its center.  I was left staring at the pile figuring out how to begin and thinking of what she would do.

Did I grow up and step up? Of course, your body’s reflexes allow you to float through amazing things.  Did I help to guide my father through grief and the next steps as best I could. You bet.  Did I make phone calls, organize flowers, sit politely and talk to neighbors and take care of business? She would have for me. Was this my adult moment? Don’t get ahead of yourself.

I was told I gracefully continued life through my graduation, a move to my first home, my new career as an elementary teacher and my wedding, all without her.  I was told I was strong and mature as my father began to date while battling a new cancer diagnosis.  I was told a lot of things but I don’t remember much of the tim341e except the weight of my role. Friend-Wife-Teacher-Matriarch.  Yes, a husband and career should make you feel like an adult since you finally have all of those responsibilities you raced to get to.  I agree, however I was also going through the motions of those very smooth, natural transitions for me waiting for the adult “epiphany” to jump out at me from some dark corner.

Give the broken machine two years. Two long….slow….heartbreaking years of adjusting to life without her.  We all were settling in to our routines of our now separate lives we each were building for ourselves again when my parent’s house finally sold.  Yes, the house finally sold, and we, my brother and I ,now had to move him after so many times of it being the other way around.

We had been waiting for this move because it really did need to happen, it was a good thing and we all were ready.  That being said, it did have a different feel to it than the other moves in our recent past.  For one thing, this was the first time that we (not movers or Mom) were going to be carefully packing away all of the boxes and moving most of the items into storage.  Plus, there was always the looming cloud that we were packing up the last residence they had together.  The last place the lived.  The last house she turned into a home.   Bless him, we also were there to guide our father through each step.  Helping him to sort and let go of the things that were not her, or them, the marriage or our perfect family, but just things.  Things (like 35 brass candlesticks and bags of saved potpourri) that were going into boxes.  Mom just may have been on the brink of “organized hoarding” based on the things she saved, because it all had its place hidden away where you couldn’t see it, but I have never seen so many half burnt candles in my life.

What my father did not know as I boxed his thirty six years of marriage into categories is that I, his baby girl, who looks and sounds just like her mother was newlydsc_1174_edited-1 pregnant.  It was my secret as I worked, packed and gained even more peace about what the new Cleaver family looked like for us.  “June” may have been gone, but we had gone on too.  After all the work and organizing was done, I left that place.  I left the last place I would ever reside in with my parents.  I said goodbye to the four of us and embraced the three of us.  I acknowledged that this is my family and as I got on the plane I was anxious to return HOME. This trip made home with my husband, dogs and our memories truly home.  I sat on the plane with my hands crossed gently over my stomach which was full of new life and possibility, knowing how proud she was of me.  I returned home to a husband, a growing baby on the way and some true closure on a broken heart as I realized “ADULT” was stamped on my forehead for the world to see.

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