My mother and I had a failure to communicate. That was the perfect line in the movie “Cool Hand Luke”. It became the punch line for late night comics, and teachers trying to be hip. It was a sad, funny line and everyone who used it had their own story. For my mother and me it was a lifetime, sprinkled with sparks of connection. I believed it was because we were so different, understanding was impossible. Acceptance in small doses was the best we could manage and that was enough to love her.
Today would have been her birthday. I don’t feel sentimental, or wish she was here to celebrate. If she was here, she would be miserable, and so would I. Instead, we are both happy.
Mom died five years ago. My father died twenty-eight days later, and a few months after that I scheduled an appointment with an intuitive healer. I felt like I was doing fine and that worried me. What kind of uncaring daughter am I? Why am I not sick with grief? I should not be okay so soon.
The intuitive healer was recommended by trusted friends. Some were educated, logical people. Some were flaky as hell. But everyone said the same thing...what she said was exactly what they needed to hear. She knew things no one else did.
The day of the appointment I almost canceled. This felt scarier than getting naked in front of a stranger. But it felt too right.
“What has brought you here? How can I help you?”
I explained, then waited. There was a brief hesitation. She did not usually deal with the after-life in her sessions. Her work was about helping the person identify their path in this life, but mine was a special case. It was important for me to understand that my father is a powerful spirit. He transitioned immediately (not everyone does) and now surrounds the family. He loves us and is helping us. If I need anything, call on him.
I had not told her during the four days he lived after his stroke, when he was awake but could not speak, I read passages from the Baha'i Writings about the beauty of the next world, and when he woke up the last time at 3 AM my brother felt compeled to read the prayer for the departed, and he died on the last line of the prayer. I did not tell her that I saw something indent the cover on my bed twice, and felt someone hold me. I knew it was Dad and later felt bad I didn’t think it could have been my mother.
“Your mother is doing something else. She did everything she could for the family when she was alive. You're all be fine." The healer paused as if listening. "I don’t know if you knew this about your mother...she longed for an education.” The healer said the spiritual dimension beyond this world has something like a college. “Your mother is studying science.”
I had not told her my father was a scientist, or that mom believed her mother-in-law looked down on her because she didn’t go to college. I didn't tell her about the nights around the kitchen table she sat listening to my brothers, and me talk with Dad about what we were studying in school. She never joined in the conversation. If we tried to include her, she'd shrug and leave.
The healer said my mother wanted to die with my father.
That was no surprise, but there was a reason I hadn't considered. She didn't want to be a burden. She wanted me to be free to do what I wanted, and not worry about her.
“Your mother is going to do something for you, though. It will be the greatest gift she could ever give you, and you will know when it happens. This will be incredible.”
I felt stunned, bewildered, and delighted. I imagined the possibilities and nothing made any sense. She had simple tastes...no diamond rings, or hidden mountain chalets. Anything like that would be shared with my brothers. And that was the other thing that made no sense. Mom was exasperatingly fair. She would not give something to just me.
Months went by and I watched for the gift. Maybe the healer had made a slight error. I already had it. I had worried about what would happen to Mom when my father died. He was the one with stage 4 cancer. Her only friend in the Assisted Living apartment was a 102 year old woman who couldn’t hear and could barely see. I decided when my father died, I would quit my job and read Erma Bombeck books to her because that was the one thing that made her laugh. If I was going to spend all day with her, I needed to make it fun or I would go crazy.
But Mom shocked everyone and died first. That was enough of a gift. I didn't need anything else.
On the first anniversary of her death, I woke up to my mother's voice. “Sharon, it’s time to write your stories.”
I remembered my first love was writing. My dream was to become a famous author. When I was ten, Mother found my stories in my room and left a note: “Sharon! Get out of your dream world!” I stopped writing because it wasn’t safe.
That anniversary morning, while driving by the cemetery where my parents are buried, a story came on NPR about blogs. By the end of the day the only website I remembered was Open Salon. I published my first story about my mother’s passing, and felt myself wake up.
A year after that I had a major case of tingles as I traveled to my first creative writing workshop and met the woman who has become my coach, mentor and friend. She is the most gifted and intuitive teacher I have ever met, and the founder of Red Bird Studios.
Red Birds. Cardinals.
My mother loved cardinals. Every time she spotted one she yelled for us to come see. I bought her cardinal earrings, coffee mugs, stationery, and a sweatshirt . One year a mime student gave me a ceramic cardinal music box for Christmas and I re-gifted it to her and told her I did. That made her happy...a beautiful painted cardinal AND I didn't pay for it. She loved a good deal.
It is impossible for me to see a cardinal, and not think of my mother.
For these past four years I have been writing my stories, finding me, and finding her. She isn't who I thought she was, and neither am I.
Writing coach: Judy Bridges, author of "Shut Up & WRITE!