Let Me Tell You About My Mom II
Local writer shares memories of her mother.
This Mother’s Day many women will mark the day without their mothers physically by their side. I am one of those women. Although I will celebrate my mother on Mother’s day, I remember her in a special way every day of my life.
My mother’s name was Colette. How blessed I was to share that name with my wonderful mom. I once heard that the name Colette meant “victorious” and although my mom was victorious in so many ways, if I was to put words together that describe my Mom and her life, they would be: faith, family, love, and joy.
Mom had a lot of really good sayings and one of them was that “Joy is not the absence of sorrow.” That meant that no matter how tough things were, we should still try to see the joy that surrounds us.
My mom gave a lot of joy to her husband, her eight children, and her grandchildren and to the community as an active parishioner at Notre Dame Church in North Caldwell and as a municipality employee for many years in Caldwell and North Caldwell.
In 1998, I was facing a personal tragedy and Mom and I were planning a trip to visit my aunt in San Francisco. I kept saying to Mom that I knew that I would feel better if I saw the redwood trees—that nature’s beauty would lift my spirits.
When we got to California, she went out of her way to make sure I was able to see those redwoods in Muir Woods. As I had imagined, the trees were magnificent. It was special to be able to go there with her and to be able to experience the joy of nature, even in the midst of my own struggles.
Shortly after Mom died in 2010, a colleague gave me a book called Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss. I opened the book to the epilogue and was quite struck by what I read because it included a beautiful image of Muir Woods and the relationship of mothers and daughters.
The author, Hope Edelman, is writing about her trip to Muir Woods after her mother dies. Her mother and father had visited that special place. Edelman describes reaching the redwoods and seeing a cluster of trees healthy and young growing in a circle around a burned trunk. She writes that the park rangers call these clusters "the family circle" and the “less botanically inclined usually call them—and I swear this is true—the mother tree and her daughters.”
Edelman continues: “Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests death produces life."
And this is Edelman’s quite beautiful description of the family cluster:
This is what I mean: In the redwood ecosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire—when, in other words, she dies—the trauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.
Edelman goes on:
I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay...”
After reading this, I felt the epilogue had a message for me and my sisters—Gerianne, Marie and Lori—a message that we can still continue to draw sustenance from our mother today.
My youngest sister Lori gave birth to a beautiful baby girl two months after Mom died and named her “Colette”. Lori does not have her mother to go to for advice and that is not easy, but she is a beautiful mother to her children because of how her mother modeled motherhood, how she stays close to God and how she chooses to strive for joy, like her mother did. Dad died when Lori was very young. The fact that Lori is “a parentless parent” makes me even more in awe of her goodness as a parent.
Author Allison Gilbert has written a book called Parentless Parents, which provides insight and advice to parentless parents on how to give their children a connection to their grandparents, even though they never knew them. In her trailer video Gilbert says, “My parents taught me so many lessons and even though my kids don’t know it now, they are who they are because of them."
Gilbert has a “Keeping Their Memory Alive” blog for parentless parents with creative activities to pass down the traditions of grandparents.
Last week, one morning as I was just waking up, I found myself singing a song to myself that my Mother used to sing to us in the morning. “Good morning, good morning, you slept the whole night through, good morning, good morning to you.” I thought of Mom right away, but was quite surprised I had that tune in my head. When I told my sister Gerianne, a wonderful mother of four and grandmother of one, she said, “That was Mommy singing to you.”
Perhaps that was a little of that “sustenance” that Edelman writes about—the sustenance that mothers still give their daughters after they are gone. Sustenance, that I believe ultimately, comes from God, our Creator.
I’ve been thinking about those of us who have been given joy from our mothers and fathers. What is our obligation after they are gone? I believe that the good they fought for, their hard work, the lessons they taught us, need to be shared forward to continue to make the world a better place and to give hope and “sustenance” to the young people we love.
So even though I don’t have the blessing of children of my own, I am going to be sure and share that little morning song (and the other gifts of joy my parents gave me) with my nieces and nephews and then hopefully they will keep passing them on, too, because as the proverb at the end of the movie City of Joy states, “all that is not given is lost”.
Happy Mother’s Day!
The writer is Colette Liddy who lived in Newark as a young child before her family moved to North Caldwell where she and her seven siblings were raised. She currently resides in Caldwell.
Read Elizabeth Moore's story, Let Me Tell You About My Mom, and share stories about your mom with the South Orange Patch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.