Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Mother of a Road Trip

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

The Catholic church in Trenton, Ontario, was packed for the funeral of a 54-year-old woman killed in a traffic accident a week earlier. Her family – a husband of 23 years and her two teenaged children – were in the front row with their arms around each other. They were well-known in the community. The woman had lived and worked in Trenton for 35 years. 
In fact, she’d worked for my father. Her husband was wearing a pair of black tasselled loafers of my father’s, new shoes never worn that we’d given him after Dad died.
For us, this was a death in the family.
For me, it was all about the 15-year-old daughter.
When it was my turn to hug and speak to Samantha in the endless line of mourners who came to pay their respects at the funeral home the day before the funeral, every profound and thoughtful thing I wanted to say to her disappeared from my head. When faced with her red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, all I could say over and over was, “I’m so sorry.”
Then I walked out of the funeral home and attended the funeral and reception with my own healthy, lovely, good-natured mother. The same kind of mother Samantha had. I’d wanted to reassure Samantha, who witnessed the accident that killed her mother, that some day the memories of that moment will fade and won’t be the only thing she remembers about her mother, but I was overwhelmed by a deeply empathetic reaction to this young girl’s loss.
A reaction heightened by three words that had been rolling around in my mind for the entire two-day road trip I’d just done with my mother. 
Between the phone call with the news and the drive to Ontario, I went to work. Since my job includes updating the church notices and putting together the two pages of Classifieds, the Card of Thanks that arrived by email was my responsibility. It was a follow-up to a mother’s death and I know the woman who sent it. In the course of our email exchange, Ruth Gamble wrote, “Enjoy your mother.”
Enjoy your mother. Ruth was speaking from her own experience, the loss of her own mother recent and raw. She had no idea what news I was dealing with and that I was about to spend five rather intense and emotional days with my own mother.
Enjoy your mother. Ruth didn’t know that a young girl was devastated by the death of her mother, a life cut off in its prime of success and happiness and plans the future. I’m sure if Ruth had known what was going on, she likely would have said the same thing. Enjoy this moment because you never know when a person – friend, daughter, mother, spouse – could be gone. 
Enjoy your mother. There’s something else that Ruth couldn’t possibly know, something that has been a fact throughout my entire life: My mother was three years old when her own mother died. She grew up without knowing her own lovely, good-natured mother and I grew up knowing that.
My mother and her older sister are not alone in this; there are others who grow up without a mother for one reason or another. So I write this thinking of the people of all ages and gender who have lost their mother too soon and I write this feeling grateful that not only can I take Ruth’s advice, I already am.
For my mother, Mother’s Day meant a visit to the cemetery to leave flowers at her mother’s grave. It could mean the same thing for Samantha. So if you are lucky enough to have a mother in your life, to have a good mother that you want to spend time with, take Ruth’s advice. 
If you don’t, I’m so sorry.

My role model and her co-pilot.

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