I wanted to do something special and memorable for our first Mother's Day without Verna. So I announced to the kids, “Let's bring some photos to the cemetery and share a story or memory of Mommy.
Miguel lowered his shoulders and shrugged in full teenager mode, “Do I have to?”
“No,” I said, “but Maya and are going to and you have to come with us.”
He brought a tennis ball and asked if we could play catch. “No, Miguel, it's a cemetery. We are going to be reverent,” I said, using a word I purposely knew was unfamiliar to him. “This is a sacred space.”
Then he asked if he could bound downhill over and across other grave markers. “No,” I said again, “do you need to ask?”
We knelt by Verna and her mother's grave marker. I wiped away some dried leaves, dirt, and grass, and emptied the water from a few flower pots. Someone had left fresh flowers that the deer had already snacked on.
Maya chose a photograph taken last August, less than two weeks before Verna died. Verna rests her head against the olive green cushion on our living room couch, a thin smile stretched across her lips, her face steroids puffy, clasping a completely naked Maya in her arms. Happiness is etched on Maya's face, the fingers on her left hand gently touching the cross around Verna's neck, her ears sparkling from what were then days old earrings.
I brought a photograph from 1997, just a week or so after we'd found out Verna was pregnant with Miguel. We are at the home of her best friend from kindergarten, Rose, and her husband, David, wearing Raybans and opening a bottle of champagne. I am wearing a homemade tie-dyed t-shirt and my formerly ubiquitous fanny pack. Verna has a black v-necked shirt and jeans shorts.
We were still stunned and elated that we were going to be parents. Verna was not quite 33. I'd just turned 38. I told Miguel and Maya how excited we'd been when Kaiser confirmed that Verna was indeed pregnant.
Miguel tossed the tennis ball. “Miguel, “ I said sternly. Maya flitted near me. My sister-in-law, Donna, showed up with her eldest daughter, Jillian, who turns 21 this year on what would have been Verna's and my 20th wedding anniversary.
Maya walked around the grass and gravestones with Jillian, then Miguel on the periphery started chasing the girls. Donna and I reminisced yet again about the surreal and awful times of last year, the pain crises that sent Verna to the hospital several times, the decision to defer her care to hospice, the tears, the anguish, and finally the reality that Verna's death was imminent slamming against us all like a vicious wave.
Later in the day, I said to Donna, “I felt so alone,” referring to me being Verna's primary caregiver the last two weeks of her life, totally responsible for administering and increasing the narcotic cocktails, and wavering about what was best for her, the kids, me, the rest of the family.
She responded, “It's time for me to give you a hug,” as she pulled me to her chest like a mother comforting a child.
Maya brought home a photograph of herself from school, a multicolored construction paper background, wearing a sweet smile as she gazes at the photographer, probably a preschool teacher. The picture is soft-framed with a blue matte and a white border, three flowers and a bumblebee on the corners.
Underneath the picture it says, You're the best! “It's a Mother's Day present for Mommy,” Maya said. “I wish I could give it to her.”
“Me, too,” I said.
Just three weeks ago, Maya stamped her foot outside our garage and said, “Daddy, I am angry. I want Mommy to come down and be with us, and hug us.”
“I know,” I said.
“And that's why I have been so grumpy,” she said apologetically. “Because I miss Mommy.”
I hugged and kissed her and wished I could bring Maya her Mommy down from Heaven, to sit on her bed so they could affix stickers in Maya's Disney princess sticker books.
But, alas, it is not to be. I know that, as do Miguel and Maya, but that still does not erase the longing, the confusion, the pain.
As Miguel and I walked upstairs on Mother's Day for his nightly routine (teeth brushing, one toss of his Oregon Ducks football, and then I read to him), he said, “I want to find a picture of Mommy and me and make it bigger and then put it in a really nice frame in my bedroom.”
I was temporarily speechless. Finally I said, “Sounds like a great idea.”
And completely reverent.