A Day in the Life

A Swift Current A Day In the Life--the power of the calendar

Beach Heart (a discovery on an otherwise ordinary day)– Photo by Hallie Swift


 

Every holiday– every birthday–

every year;

my mom was giddy with excitement.

In anticipation

I’d send a reminder to

cousins and friends;

her photo with a note:

hugs and kisses welcome here!

Year after year,

flowers and cards and visitors and candy

descended on the nursing home;

just the thought of it

made me giddy too.

 

A Swift Current A Day in the Life--the Power of the Calendar

They Say It’s Your Birthday–Photo by Hallie Swift

 

Now that she’s gone,

holidays and birthdays

stare at me

from the calendar page;

each promising to deliver

its own private havoc.

Standing in a checkout line,

(is it Mother’s Day already?)

I avert my eyes from

the greeting card display

but it’s too late.

I swat away tears

fumble coins

bungle amounts;

the customer behind me

sighs

with New York impatience.

I want to tell her

(this has never happened to you?)

it doesn’t take much to rattle me–

Father’s Day-

Easter baskets-

Valentines-

ENOUGH!

But

I know

I’m not the only one

upended by the innocuous.

(Facebook reminds me)

there’s no such thing as an ordinary day;

it’s always someone’s

birthday—

anniversary—

or even

death day,

for that matter.

And these extraordinary

ordinary dates

reverberate

on the page and

in our minds;

none of us escaping

the silent struggle

no one else can see;

more of us

in mourning

than you would ever know.

Recently

an ordinary,

unremarkable

winter’s day

was

(would have been)

my mother’s 100th birthday.

I proclaim her milestone

on Facebook

–the new village square–

a photo from our cross country drive

only months after my father died;

a widow at the age

I am now.

My mother turns toward the camera

a quintessential tourist pose,

the Grand Canyon behind her;

alone–

strong–

brave–

(or do I detect a rueful shadow in her half smile?)

Happy 100, Mama!

I hit post

and discover instantly

I am not done.

Suddenly galvanized

by the facts of her life,

I continue my exploration;

one by one

photo by photo

hour by hour

I recount the twists and triumphs

of 95 years.

With each addition,

a forgotten woman emerges,

my Mama.

And I realize:

until this day,

her last decade–

the decade of dementia–

had dominated my memories and

belied her life.

I had allowed the confusion, pain and grace of our final years

to become her whole story;

our whole story.

But she was so much more.

As I unbury my dead,

a chorus of cousins and friends

cheers my revelations–

helping me strike back

at a calendar filled with dread.

Dates loom large;

on the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birth

her story challenged my grief;

my sorrow finally tempered by

understanding,

pride,

and yes, even

giddy excitement.

That evening

my husband took me to dinner;

we raised our glasses high in the air

the end of an extraordinary ordinary day

Here’s to you, Mama

what a life—

happy 100!

 

nothing she did
or said

was quite
what she meant

but still her life
could be called a monument

shaped in a slant
of available light

and set to the movement
of possible music

(from “The Grandmother Cycle” by Judith Downing Converse Quarterly, Autumn)
 

 

A Swift Current A Day in the Life The Power of the Calendar

It’s My Birthday Too Yeah– Photo by Hallie Swift

 

They Say It’s Your Birthday, words and music by Lennon & McCartney, All Rights Reserved.

The excerpt from The Grandmother Cycle is from the opening pages of one of my all-time favorite books, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which explores the life of an “ordinary woman”…

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16 thoughts on “A Day in the Life

  1. I so love this essay — the gratitude & celebration tempering the always-painful grief…and the reference to “The Stone Diaries”, also one of my favorites… Sending many hugs!

    • Thank you Shelley. More and more I see people commemorate birthdays and other important days of their deceased loved ones on Facebook and other social media. I enjoy seeing the photos and learning their stories–and it reinforces I am not alone as I confront days that can otherwise be quite tough. And I often wonder about strangers around me…who among us is grieving a loss; remembering a loved one on a day that seems quite ordinary…but isn’t…

      AND yes, Stone Diaries says it all…do you remember that the characters study old photos–and completely misinterpret what is actually going on for the characters in the photos…one of many revelations from that book….an inspiration as I study that photo of my mom at the Grand Canyon as wonder what it was like for her. Thank you again, H

    • Thank you Julie. I know you have your hands full and are not reading many blogs these day, so it touches me completely that you took the time to look at my efforts. And that I have readers in other continents tickles me as well…thank you and love to you and Ants, Hallie

  2. I love this…I still cannot look at Mother’s or Father’s Day advertisements, and avoid card shops during these times. However, I do get some solace from posting my Mom and Dad’s pictures on Facebook, and am always so touched and uplifted by the kindness of my friends when they acknowledge these postings. I guess the grief does turn to pride and understanding. Thank you, Hallie, for putting beautiful words to my emotions.

    • Thank you Joanie. I knew I wasn’t the only one who has to turn away from all the cards and advertising. Even now, the unending stream of emails from Shutterfly and other retailers playing off these holidays drives me crazy. I wish there was an opt out choice (without completely unsubscribing) where I could let them know that every time they remind me of Mother’s Day, it stings.

      I am fascinated by the number of commemorative postings (on birthdays and other occasions) on Facebook and Twitter…my friends really do use it as a forum to celebrate their deceased loved ones, and every time it gives me comfort knowing I am not alone.

      And on a related issue, just this week one of my childhood friends died, and people turned her Facebook page into this huge condolence forum…it was lovely to read people’s postings. So for all the negative aspects of social media, I do think it is also letting us address tough, heretofore unspoken issues out in the open. That’s one reason I called it the “new village square.”

      Thank you again, H

  3. I love the celebration of your mother’s life, moving out of grief and into the joy of who she was. I think your mother had an amazing life.

    • Thank you Kathleen. And I love that it was spontaneous…and that you just don’t know where something is going to lead, but I followed my instinct (dropping my plan for the day) and yes, it unfolded in a way I could never anticipate. The dinner was not spontaneous, but a few days earlier I had announced that I was planning to make enchiladas to honor my mom’s birthday, and my husband immediately suggested a bigger celebration (I hope not a commentary on my cooking…!). Thanks again H

  4. Yes,I also think you had wonderful, strong,loving parents and because of them you became the person you are today… Wonderful, strong, loving…keep writing…and Father’s Day is coming and maybe we’ll read about a chapter in his life…

    • Well, that comment brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.

      As I approach the “end” of my mom’s story, sharing all the issues and thoughts I contemplated both during her last decade and since, I am not completely sure about the direction of A Swift Current. I want to continue to talk about eldercare, dementia, and grief, again from the basis of my experience, but perhaps integrating current films, books etc. I have actually tried to avoid the discussion in the popular culture, such as Still Alice, as I did not want other writing to influence mine. But going forward I see perhaps using this as a forum for that discussion.

      I have shared a bit of my father here…both in March of last year with the post And He Blessed You Best of All, as well as earlier with the posts Themes and Variations Part 1 and 2. The March post was about finally coming to terms with his death at age 63…it only took me 35 years, and I am living proof that there is no timetable for grief. The earlier posts were about my mother’s fantasies in her demented state that he was alive but not calling her. That was one of the most painful periods of her dementia for me, as I was simultaneously dealing with the loss of both parents, and she wouldn’t’ believe had died decades before (no one told me!)

      So how or if my father will come back to this forum remains to be seen…stay tuned! AND thank you again, Hallie

  5. As in every one of your posts, I really appreciate your ability to write such beautiful words and share. My daughter died suddenly 26 years ago and I still can’t express the grief I have felt in so many different ways. Please don’t stop writing–you will find a way to keep sharing. Thank you Hallie. Barbara

    • Thank you, Barbara. I cannot begin to know the grief you feel with the death of your daughter. As I think I may have said here, grief does not know a timetable. A friend heard someone on TV saying "grief lasts a year"–I think she either must have misunderstood– or the commentator has never grieved.

      If my words can in some small way help you, I am deeply moved and thankful.

      Thank you- as always- for your support here. My postings have slowed in frequency–but not in fervor. The writing process is slow and revelatory (for me). And though my mom's story is coming to a close, I intend to continue to explore these subjects.

      With gratitude, Hallie

  6. I know that I have cried when I have read so many of your posts because of what each one means in my life but you know Hallie, this time I did not produce tears. I read each word with joy because your Mom was such a beautiful enlightened lady and she raised two girls with such charm and eloquence. Happy Birthday to your Mama and though I am not quite there yet, all your experiences have prepared me and my brothers for the inevitable and I think we are going to handle it a bit easier. Thank you and love you my dear.

    • It is always so interesting to me that people have such a variety of reactions…literally within an hour of your comment, I received a message from another reader who said the photo of my mom made her teary. I used to feel guilty that my writing prompted a lot of tears, but now I am convinced that tears are one of the truest emotions…and somehow we are trained to be afraid of/embarrassed by them. I might have said before–I want to write a post about tears–they are such apart of living!

      And every time I write, I end up crying…in fact, that is how I know I have peeled back the layers, and am getting the writing to an honest place…when I start to tear up, I know I am on the right track…

      That said, I am thrilled by your lovely comments about my mom, as well as the idea that everything I am sharing here is preparing you and your family for what is down the road…that is one of my goals for A Swift Current. And as alluded to at the end of this piece, thoughts about my mom are now bringing smiles, not stress, or guilt or regret…true absolution!

      Thank you for commenting and for your steadfast support of my efforts, Hallie

    • Thank you Jodi.

      I know how difficult it is to keep up with everyone’s writing…and I really appreciate your taking the time to read my latest and comment. I read and got a lot of insights from your last post on The Lemon Bar Queen, meant to comment, and then forgot (typical of my brain these days)…so I appreciate your letting me know…

      Six weeks is an extraordinarily short time, as you know…I was in a fog for months…I thought I should wear a sign “Handle with Care.”

      And I kept experiencing the odd phenomenon of suddenly being transported to the room with the ringing phone with news of my mom’s death (I describe it in one of the early posts)–it went on for close to 9 months–the “spell” only broken by the act of writing…which became the basis for my efforts here. But it gave me a great relief to know I wasn’t alone; I attended a lunch with the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, discussing her “Widow’s Memoir”–and she began to nod vigorously when I described the ever-ringing telephone transporting me back to the moment of the news…the same thing happened to her–and just knowing it happens to others gave me a new perspective on my grief…

      But another interesting thing happened. A friend enrolled my mom’s name in a service that took place on Thanksgiving weekend–my mom had died in October. Hearing my mom’s name out loud was a completely joyful experience, and as we walked home, I swear I felt lighter. Later, I learned that 49 days after a person’s death is a significant juncture for mourning in the Buddhist tradition, and when I counted the days, would you believe that my “lighter” feeling occurred on day 49…

      Of course, it could have been a complete coincidence. All I know is everything unfolded in slow, measured steps…it took 4+ years for my sorrow to turn to the celebration I describe on my mom’s 100th birthday–and even then, I had no idea it was going to happen…until it happened…

      Some people say we grieve our parents because we know “we’re next.” Nothing could be further from my mind. I really appreciate that you say you are “missing your mom” because for me, that hits the nail on the head. We lost them, they are no longer on the earth, and we miss them. Period.

      My Daddy too…close to 40 yrs later…

      Love to you, Jodi, again thank you for taking the time to reach out to me,
      Hallie

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