In the first moments, hours and days after the shock of losing my mother, I often heard people comfort me with the words - "She is still with you, in everything."
I knew this was true, I felt this in my heart and had experienced this when my father died. But the body was gone. The human voice too was a memory, a soundtrack in my head not to be heard on the radio or through speakers. It was all up to me now to feel her presence - in another realm, in another form.
But she was with me so much those first raw days - I like to think not only for me, but I can only assume for her too. She was after all leaving me behind. She knew I was the emotional child, the sensitive artist - she knew how sad I'd be.SO maybe she floated in and out, just checking to ease her own concern for those she left behind. Maybe there is a "waiting real" where a person goes before moving onto where they move onto and maybe they get to do whatever they need to understand what we are also trying to understand - they are gone but it will be okay.
Here I'd like to document how many ways she is with me - in physical form sometimes, or in metaphors. I never cease to be comforted by these encounters - although depending on the day, I might swell up and cry up to the sky, or drop my head for a minute and whisper -
"I wish you were standing here with me, about to make me a good sandwich, cut on the diagonal like you did when I was little. I wish I could smell your scent."
Encounter One: Mother in a Tulip
My mother loved tulips. Growing up in Minnesota, after a long winter, there was nothing more hopeful or glorious to see the tulips once again rising out of the depths of crusted earth.
When we first moved to the farm, she gifted me a lot of tulip bulbs and I planted them up and down our drive. Out here in the rural areas, many don't even try to grow them, as the deer love them. But I was just as hopeful planting them as a Minnesotan waiting for them to return in the Spring.
And each April, I'd announce their arrival to her in one of our morning phone chats.
Over the years, the deer and time meant the returning tulips became sparse, and last spring not one tulip came up.
The day after she died, I was walking up the drive after herding the sheep to their bottom field, and there amongst the muscari was one single tulip, still folded up waiting for warmth.
It was her. I had no doubts.
For those first days, that tulip bulb allowed me to somehow function. I would greet her in the morning and I watched her open and spread out her petals as the warmer air came. In time, I grew attached to Mother Tulip and began to treat her preciously, selfishly really. I was worried one of the dogs might knock her over and warned them away from her. And when I took my sheep down to the field, I would place a large bucket over her so she would not be eaten.
I realized I had become attached to yet anther physical form of her.
Within a couple weeks, the shock of her death was fading - leaving me with the cold realization - she's really dead, she is not coming back.
But Mother Tulip helped me get to that point. That single tulip allowed me to take joy in my mother being physically here with me - for I did feel it was her. And as the tulip lost each petal, I took comfort in her still - for that flower had a specific purpose here - to mother me.
Encounter Two: Mother Reaching, Child Reaching
While working in the sheep pasture, I found a stick that looked like a woman reaching out to me. I brought her to my studio and took her picture. I put her with another stick creature I'd found weeks or months earlier.
I realized that one is a little child. It had been waiting to show me its true persona all these days.
I'm sure there are other stick creatures out there that I will come across in the days and weeks ahead.
Encounter Three: Mother Dove
The day before my mother died, she had survived the first heart attack, and I had talked to her - which gave me hope. She was telling me it was going to be okay, and it calmed me - just like a child who had lost a blanket or something. Fifty-five years old and I was still able to feel hope from the words of my mother.
So I returned from the barn and saw two morning doves dusting and it was unusual to see them boldly in the drive like that. For an instant, I thought it was my mom, with my father who died 5 years ago, but it was a fleeting thought. An odd thought - and I didn't want to think it was the two of them since that would mean she was leaving to be with him somewhere else.
The next morning, I returned from the barn and roughly in the same place saw one lone dove dusting. In my heart I felt it was my mother and at the time I wanted it to be a positive message, but I sensed otherwise - I stopped myself from believing all my thoughts were truly messages from her. Four hours later, she died.
The first days after her death, a single dove would appear at what I considered - miraculous moments - when I was sitting outside teary eyed, when I'd go out back of my studio and sit missing her because that is where we shared coffee phone chats. Even when I went to Santa Rosa to clean out her things, a dove could be heard in the trees, one dove. And at dinner that night when we joined my brother and his wife outside in their garden and toasted to my mother, a single dove flew into the tree. Even now, just this second - a dove is cooing out back. The dove appeared as I left the sheep this morning, seen here on the wire.
Even two months after her death, there is a flock of doves that is still with us - and always a single dove that flies by me, or up to the fence when I drive up the road. I have noticed the cooing in the morning is getting farther away, and perhaps she knows now it is safe to really leave, that I will be okay without her.
It has been four months. I still see her, but in different ways. It's a combination of reality and imagination. I can see her over the farm sometimes, sitting, floating, just like she looked in the living room, but I'm looking at a tree.