My mother passed away on Christmas Day 2008. I didn’t feel particularly festive on that day, but subsequent Christmases have been jolly and surprisingly free of any twinges of sadness over her death. I feel fine on her birthday, too. It’s really no different from any other day. Mother’s Day, on the other hand, is tough. Today is the day I feel her absence most keenly. I wish I could buy her flowers and take her out to brunch like everyone else is doing for their mothers. I wish I could give her a hug and tell her how much I love her.
I had to play the organ at church this morning and I had to bathe my dad, so I needed to get up a little earlier than usual. I hate having to wake my dad up when he’s in a deep sleep. Sometimes he wakes up alert and ready to go. Other times he wakes up extremely groggy, like he’s waking up from surgery or something. When that happens, it’s best to just let him sleep. It’s dangerous for him to walk in that condition. He’s very wobbly and can barely pick up his feet. Today he woke up groggy, and so I knew church was out for him. I let him sleep until it was time for me to leave, and then I woke him up just to tell him that I was going to play the organ at church and then I’d be right back. He nodded, and then told me he needed to go to the bathroom. I helped him sit up and--I'll try to spare you the graphic details--discovered that it was too late for a trip to the bathroom. I tried to clean him up as quickly as I could. He was still half asleep and I don’t think he had any idea what had happened. He didn’t seem to notice me cleaning him with the cold wet wipes.
Church was awful. I barely arrived in time. Flustered, I sat down at the organ and bumbled my way through a hymn I had practiced earlier and felt comfortable with. The morning chaos had thrown me off my game. When it came time to play the Sacrament hymn, my fingers weren’t where I thought they were on the keyboard, and the first chord I played was just awful. I quickly corrected the placement of my fingers and played the rest of the hymn perfectly, but the sound of that first chord still rang in my ears. It was terrible. The next time you are near an organ, take off your shoes, put them on your hands, and press them anywhere you like on the keyboard. That’s what I sounded like this morning.
The high council speaker’s talk on mothers drove me crazy. It was the typical hagiographical mumbo jumbo that we all have come to expect on Mother’s Day. He told a story from his childhood about coming home from school to find three loaves of freshly baked bread sitting on the kitchen table. After helping himself to all three loaves (I guess they were small loaves?), he learned that the bread was intended for a church function and not for the family. He said that his mother was not angry with him—she cheerfully whipped up another batch and all was well. I couldn’t conceal the look of disgust on my face. Oh really? She was totally cool with it? She just whistled a happy tune when she discovered that her FOUR-HOUR PROJECT had gone down the crapper? Your mom was PISSED, dude. She probably excused herself and went into the next room to ask God for the strength not to murder you.
I wasn’t feeling very celestial today, as you can see. It was only 9:30 in the morning and the day was already shot to hell. And then that dreaded moment came, the moment when all of the women, mothers and barren spinsters alike, had to stand while the young men passed out chocolates and a letter from the bishopric. Now, I understand that holidays like these are tricky in the Church. We want to be inclusive. We don’t want anybody to feel left out and unappreciated, and I love my bishopric for that. It’s sweet of them. I know there are lots of single women out there who really enjoy being honored in that way. I am just not one of those women. I always feel super conspicuous. (“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong…”) Don’t get me wrong—I took the chocolate. I’m not an idiot. And considering that there is virtually nothing that a young mother does to care for a baby that I don’t also do for my elderly father, I felt totally justified. But still, it’s awkward and it feels condescending, although I KNOW that it’s not intended to be. I know that it is done in a spirit of gratitude for all of the “mothering” that we spinsters do to other people’s kids. I get it. But it still bugs me.
I came home annoyed about my disastrous organ performance and annoyed that I was annoyed with a bunch of wonderful people who just wanted me—and all women—to feel loved and appreciated. My dad was lying in bed, fully awake by now, but resting quietly waiting for me to help him get up. I gathered up my dad’s bedding and threw it into the washing machine. I gave him a bath, helped him get dressed, and then guided him to the kitchen table for breakfast. “You want some coffee?” I asked, which is what my dad calls hot chocolate. “Yes. I’d really like some,” he replied, and then he added, “You’re a good girl, Randi.”
The words were my father’s, but I swear to you, I felt my mother’s arms around me as I stood there in the kitchen, stirring boiling water—and probably more than a few tears—into my dad’s coffee. The dark cloud that had been following me around all morning lifted. I didn't give a rip about the organ debacle, and I no longer wanted to strangle the high councilman. And I realized that the best gift I could give my mother on Mother’s Day was the gift I had been giving for the last several years. I’m sure that me taking care of her husband when she can’t means more to my mom than any silly old brunch or bouquet of flowers. I can’t prove it, but I know that she was close by me today. I felt her love for me as strongly as I ever felt it when she was alive. And if you can read blogs where you are, Mom, your message came through loud and clear. I hope you know how much I love you, too.