This Mother’s Day morning I woke up half way home from St. Louis. I had been speaking at the 2019 NGS Conference in St. Charles, Missouri and drove part way yesterday after my luncheon session.
The rain has been incessant not for hours, not days, but weeks. The rivers aren’t just swollen, they have crested and then crested their crests. Entire farms are underwater, half way up grain silos and barns.
Those farmers won’t recover.
I anticipated a difficult drive in the rain, which is why I stopped as dusk fell – outside Indianapolis last evening.
Indy is about an hour from where I grew up – and I was NOT driving through my hometown.
Mother’s Day is difficult enough without that on top of the fact that the only thing left there to visit is Mother’s grave. I made that stop on my way to St. Louis, taking Mom flowers and rocks from her ancestors’ land.
I didn’t immediately remember that it was Mother’s Day when I woke up in my roadside hotel this morning but was quickly reminded at the first place I stopped for coffee. I needed coffee to stay awake in the four and a half hours of grey drizzle.
Of course, I immediately began thinking about mother. It IS Mother’s Day, after all.
Mom’s high school graduation photo in 1940. You’ll pardon me if I say that she was beautiful and reminds me so much of my daughter.
I pondered memories of the farm, my kids spending summers there with Mom – and when my son dropped his pop upside down in Mom’s purse. Such fun but all memories since she is gone.
Just over 4 hours to home, now.
The rain increased, the sun hiding forever. Boring grey windshield time.
I remembered earlier Mother’s Days; ones that mother celebrated with us.
Often, we drove to Fort Wayne or Auburn, Indiana, about 3 hours each way to meet Mom for lunch on Mother’s Day. We generally met at the Ponderosa in Auburn. Ponderosa had a buffet AND a senior discount. Never mind that Mom wasn’t paying – that’s where she wanted to go.
I also recalled the miserable Mother’s Day, also raining, that I loaded the last of the items from her apartment into a rental truck, a couple weeks after her death. I do believe that was literally the worst Mother’s Day I ever had. I tried not to think about that today – actively having to put those thoughts out of my mind as they snuck in from time to time.
I drove past State Road 18, the road that if I turned west would take me past the cemetery where Mom is buried and another 20 miles or so on down that road, to the farm that I loved so much. Such wonderful memories there.
Yes, State Road 18 had always been the road home – but not today. In fact, not for the past many years. My mind wandered down 18, reliving memories, regardless of whether I wanted it to or not.
Mother’s Day tribute songs were playing on the radio.
I decided that I needed a bathroom break near Auburn, but there are too many memories there, so I decided to bypass that exit and stop at the rest stop up the road.
As I drove past the Ponderosa at the Auburn exit, I noticed the sign on the building that said “Available.” The Ponderosa had closed – just one more thing that connects me to Mom gone.
I cried and pulled in at the rest area, needing a break and a walk. The rain wasn’t the only difficult part of this drive today.
Inside the rest area was the seal of the State of Indiana, laid into the tile floor.
I smiled, realizing that I was literally driving through a lifetime of memories – from my birth to this very day.
On the road again, I remembered little things.
Like when I made my own clothes and Mom marked the hems while I stood on a kitchen chair. She would tell me to stand still. I don’t think those hems were ever straight!
Or when a date would arrive to pick me up – he had to come to the door and converse with my mother before we could leave. The date always looked incredibly uncomfortable. That just might have been the idea.
One certainly did NOT go outside and just get into the car. And if any young man would have had the bad judgement to honk the horn, I wasn’t going anyplace with him then or ever.
Thank goodness the boys all had more common sense than that.
I had to smile as I remember Mom shaking her finger and lecturing one young man about something as he repeated “Yes Ma’am” over and over. I don’t think he ever asked me out again. That too was probably the idea:)
I passed by tractors with their plows attached, abandoned in the fields, and I knew the farmers had started plowing and couldn’t go further. I also know what that means – they’re probably stuck, and stuck or not – they aren’t doing anything until the land has an opportunity to dry. Every day lost in the spring can’t be recovered and the farmers try not to show their worry or emotion – but you can hear it in their voices.
I crossed the state line into Michigan, glad to leave Indiana and her memories behind.
Just 2 and a half hours to go now.
Crossing the Line
No one tells you when your mother dies that you never “get over” the grief. No one explains that while you may be a mother yourself, and you cherish your own children recognizing Mother’s Day and spending time with you, that your smile is hiding the tears you shed earlier for your own mother.
No, it’s never over and it never ends.
I try very hard to salve the grief with the good memories, but good memories are gateways to the tears – because there are no new good memories.
I had to focus on the road construction and the rain. Maybe that was a good thing.
I passed Lansing where I moved when I left Indiana. Mom visited often and we set out on new adventures. She loved antique shops and there were lots to explore in Michigan.
Now, half an hour east of Lansing, the grey rain continued as did the construction. However, there seemed to be a problem.
Across the median I noticed a car pulled over with its doors open as if someone exited hurriedly. I slowed, immediately thinking that someone might need help. I saw people in the median.
Glancing back and forth between the median and the road with the orange barrels, I caught a quick glimpse of the scene – now seared into my memory in those brief seconds.
First, I saw two dark grey shapes, silhouettes of people, along with bright colors, which confused me.
Then, I realized that one person was on their knees, on the ground in the rain, their back towards me, with the other person bent over them from the right, hand on their shoulder. What looked like flowers were on both sides of the person on the ground.
What is someone doing on their knees in the rain?
Was someone or something hurt?
Had someone been hit?
Was there also a car in the median someplace?
Did I need to call 911?
Did I need to stop and help?
I slowed, preparing to stop, when I saw it…
A white cross in front of the person on their knees.
A few months ago, there was a horrific accident in that stretch of highway involving many cars and semis which resulted in 3 fatalities.
That white cross was not there before.
Those people get to spend this Mother’s Day remembering – in the rain, in the median, on their knees, head bowed, in front of the white cross, planting colorful flowers.
They can’t take their mother flowers anymore.
Or, is the person kneeling the mother who is marking the location of her child’s death? Two young people died that terrible day.
I don’t have the answer, and it only matters to them. Grief is grief regardless.
I wished I could have taken a quick photo in the cold rain. Nothing could ever be more effective or poignant in promoting safe driving, but I would never have intruded into such a private space.
I realized in that soul searing moment that the sadness I carry about my mother’s death – and will for the rest of my life – can’t be compared to the agonizing grief these people must surely feel. In the median of an expressway, alone but at the same time, on public display.
Mother passed over at 83, she wasn’t ripped from me, from the prime of her life, in a horrific pileup accident that took nearly a day to clear.
I’m suddenly grateful for my flavor of grief.
I’m fortunate that I can grieve softly, and slowly, knowing that mother completed her life. Realizing that missing her and wanting more goodness is normal. I’m not grieving for what could have and should have been but that I was robbed of by someone else’s negligence. Her life was not cut short – it just wasn’t long enough for me.
Not everyone celebrates this or other holidays which surface painful memories, or sometimes lack of them. Those who cannot bear children or have lost children or parents tragically. I need to be more cognizant of this situation, my words and what silence might mean.
I hold those people in the median into the light along with all others who suffer in a river of unrelenting grief.