“Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future.”
~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave
That is where both of my parents, Norris and Roma Smith, were laid to rest – my mother when I was just 8- years- old, and my father, eight years later when I was 16. Cancer claimed my mother; a car accident my father.
Later, when I was an adult woman, my step-mother, Margaret Wilson, was also buried there next to her first husband, Charles, just a few graves down from my own parent’s graves.
Without a doubt, my early parental loss has been one of the great burdens of my life (at times greater than I felt I could bear). And, I have also been the recipient of profound compensatory blessings.
Margaret, whom my father married 15 months after my mother died, was a no-nonsense woman who taught all of her children, including myself, how to work. She was incredibly frugal and thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs were the norm for us long before it was chic. Her priority was our future. Every month when our social security checks arrived, she deposited them all in the bank in our individual accounts for college.
Living in a small, conservative town during the sixties, she was ahead of her time. All of us, girls included, were expected to get an education in something that would lead to gainful employment. She knew from excruciating experience that every woman needs a life plan. When her first husband, Charles Wilson, died of a sudden heart attack, she was six months pregnant with her fourth child and had only a high school education.
Margaret didn’t care where we went to college. What mattered was that our education would lead to employment. For me that meant a journalism major versus an English major. I did in fact get a job in my field before I had even graduated from college. She also encouraged us to travel and put off marriage until we had developed careers and had seen a bit of the world and of life.
When I graduated, thanks to Margaret’s thriftiness, my entire college education had been paid for and there was $1,000 left over.
I am profoundly grateful for what Margaret did for me, and at times it feels there is no possible compensation for my early parent-loss. As I write I am looking at the last picture ever taken of me and my mother. In the black and white Kodak photo I am eight- years- old. Though my mother looked sick, I did not know it would be our last picture together, our last trip to Yellowstone National Park.
She has taken the time to curl both of our hair. I am up on a log fence, pine trees in the background. She is standing and has pulled me in close to her with one arm. Our heads are touching tenderly. We are both smiling a similar smile. When I look at the picture, one word comes to mind: Beloved. I am reminded how much she loved me and how much I still love her and miss her.
And I wonder, is it possible, in one of life’s mysteries, that she had something to do with me giving birth to six daughters. Just as mysterious is the fact our youngest, Rose, was born on the same day as our oldest, Dec. 21, the winter solstice. I gave birth to her at home with two mid-wives and her five sisters, Annie, Maria, Amanda, Sarah, and Suzette, waiting to greet her. (I adored my Dad, but my mother-loss has been more difficult to endure.)
As I sit writing and pondering, I find myself reflecting on what it means to be the mother of adult daughters, not having had my mom past eight. Parenting profoundly changes when one’s children become adults. Instead of discipliners and teachers we are now consultants and even peers. All my daughters have transitioned into teachers for me as well.
As I watch their continual evolution and unfolding, I too evolve and learn about unexplored parts of myself. When our last daughter left home, the house felt deafly silent. I mourned. I now rejoice with each homecoming – especially when more than one of them comes and the house is filled with loud laughter, constant conversation, and an ever- flowing ocean of emotion.
They are bound by a shared childhood, yet each is a unique individual, mindful of her own purpose and path. Annie, our firstborn, has red hair like my mother. She lives in Oahu, Hawaii with her husband and two children. Her love of the island’s beauty was born when she and I took a mother/daughter trip there many years ago. Anyone who knows Annie loves her because of her kindness and hilarious sense of humor.
Maria is a filmmaker who lives in Portland, Oregon, and is working on her first feature-length film, The Texture of Falling. She is my editor and picks the pictures and posts all of my articles. As an adult, she has chosen to lovingly support my dreams and has been a huge part of this web-site development.
Amanda traveled the United States at 18, then got a job in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where she met her husband. She is now a mother of two, has been continuing her education, and creating home and family in the Columbia River Gorge. She is known for her willingness to help others, her gentleness, and her commitment to the wellbeing not only of her family, but the earth.
Sarah lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, where her husband Grant is working on his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan. Sarah’s days are filled with raising their three children, participating in book groups and women’s groups, and pondering what she wants to get her doctorate in and when. Already she is a community builder within the family housing where they live.
Suzette lives in Utah with her husband Mike. They are both mental health therapists and parents of their first daughter. At the baby shower for Suzette, I was showered with numerous accounts of her quiet and positive support of so many people. It has been so endearing to witness her as a mother.
Our last daughter Rose spends her days working at Sea Breeze Farms on Vashon, Island, WA, where she makes artisan cheese, specialty bologna, and hosts farm-to-table dinners at the Sea Breeze Farms’ restaurant, La Bouchere. It is not unusual for her to take off her apron at the dinners and break out into a jazz song with her beautiful, sultry voice.
I won’t be able to make it to Rose Hill Cemetery today. It is many years behind me and over 600 miles away from where I now live. And my daughters – though spread across the country — are very much alive. They keep love alive for me. Along with their father, my husband Brian, they are my treasure, my great compensatory blessings, my purpose, my meaning, my life.
On this Memorial Day, I invite you, as you honor your losses in life, to also consider your compensatory blessings.