For years, on Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I have visited the cemetery where my parents are buried. It has become a tradition that helps us focus on memories and the role that mother and dad played in my life. As we stood at the graveside, I recalled a short story, a work of fiction that our daughter had written about her grandmother, whom she never met, since my daughter was born years after my mother died.
So, today I re-read that short story for the umpteenth time. Based on real events, my daughter had created not only a wonderful story, but she captured the emotions and feelings of that moment in time. Predictably, as I read, tears came and, along with the tears, memories.
I was just 19 when my mother was killed in a flash flood. I was on leave from the Army after serving in Korea and enjoying a reunion with my family. The call that told us of the flood took us all by surprise. Mother and dad had started the long drive home and we didn’t know where they were. Yes, we knew it had been raining but we had no idea of the magnitude of the water that rushed down the Continental Divide and pushed their car into the creek.
By the time we arrived at the hospital where Dad had been taken, there was still no news of mother. Later, as I rode the creek bank on horseback, I hoped and prayed that by some miracle, some quirky twist of fate, mother would be found, alive. It was not to be. Three days later her body was found a mile or two downstream.
My two sisters and I displayed our grief in different ways. My older sister seemed strong as she reached out to us, to console us, to assure us. My younger sister had a difficult time understanding that mother was gone and, with her tears, she grieved. I remember saying, with conviction, that mother was now pain-free, that her worries of cancer were gone and she was with God. In my young-man’s mind, that seemed to be my consolation. For all of us, the loss seemed too much to bear.
I had been the youngest, probably the one that caused my mother more trouble than the other two combined. I was not much of a student in high school and, decades later I can still hear her say to me: “Stanley, you can do better!” That oft-repeated phrase had lost its punch and in my rebellious teens, had no meaning. I did graduate, barely, which may have surprised mother. And later, much later, her words served to motivate me through my graduate work. I have to believe that she is proud of me.
And so I read again the essay with the sure knowledge that in reading I would revisit my grief. But I do so willingly, with intent, because my grief becomes my tribute to my mother. A most appropriate memorial.
For What It’s Worth.