I remember being 4 or 5 years old and rushing into the chapel with my older sister. We would hurry into the back row, leave a mother-sized gap and then start slapping the hollow between us with our palms while chanting, “MOMMY’S PLACE! MOMMY’S PLACE!”. It was an unwritten rule of childhood that staking the first claim for mom was binding. Sitting by her at church was the ultimate reward, it was the holy grail, it was my heart’s greatest desire. Leaning against her soft, warm body felt safe. It felt like home. When I enter the church pew each week and my children jostle and clamor for the glory of sharing one of my sides, I remember.
I remember coming downstairs each morning with heavy eyes and tousled hair, groggy with sleep. When my mom would see me, she would greet me with, “Good morning, merry sunshine! How did you wake so soon?”, or she would sing, “Good morning! Good morning!” from Singing in the rain. I remember my mom singing. She was always singing. The words were often confused (“Rise and shine, the cougars are out!”), but she would always greet us and the morning with a happy tune.
I remember sitting next to her on our organ bench while she practiced playing out of a beginner book. One of the songs was Beautiful Brown Eyes, and she sang it to me as one of her few brown-eyed children in a sea of blue-eyed siblings. I felt important and significant. I felt loved.
I remember riding in the bike trailer as she pedaled us to school on crisp, fall mornings. The skies were blue, the slanting sun would shine in our eyes and we would glide across the streets past the changing autumn leaves.
I remember her singing Doris Day’s “A bushel and a peck” and I had no idea what a bushel or a peck or a barrel or a heap was, but I knew that she loved me. You bet your pretty neck, I did.
I remember her telling me that if my dad touched me places he shouldn’t, it was my fault for wearing shorts that were too short.
I remember walking in on her quietly on her knees in prayer. I remember listening to scriptures on the record player during summer vacation. Conference talks blaring loudly in the early mornings. I remember a whole wall in the living room filled with pictures of Jesus. I remember her desperately clinging to her faith, prostrating herself before the Lord due to a reality that she could never fully face, that she felt powerless to stop.
I remember moving out at 17 and scrambling to get my footing in a world I was too broken to survive in. I dusted off my feet from that defective home and helplessly turned my back on my siblings still living there. Angrily turned my back on my mother still trapped in an ugly reality.
I remember during the birth of my oldest daughter that labor suddenly took a turn and our baby’s heart rate dropped very low. Nurses quickly gave me a shot to stop contractions, turned me on my left side and told me not to move. The visitors that had been chatting with us in the delivery room quickly exited the room, and I felt so alone and terrified that I was going lose my baby girl. I called my mom, the mother of 13 who had more experience with childbirth than any woman I’ve ever known, and told her I was scared. I asked her to come be with me. I needed a safe place. I needed someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay. She didn’t come.
I remember crying for days when I learned she had breast cancer.
I remember my sister and I rushing to Utah when she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. Despite years of estrangement, I was devasted by the realization that she could leave this Earth. She could not leave. There was too much unsaid. Too many secrets untold. Too many broken hearts.
When my sister notified us last June that mom’s hospice workers felt she was declining, I was desperate to be there. I knew this was the end. I needed to sit in the room with her dwindling body, to hold her warm hand one more time and to be there while she quietly slipped away. I needed to tell her, “It’s okay, mom. It’s okay. I love you. I forgive you. I’m sorry for how things turned out.”.
But, I didn’t make it. And I will always remember.