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Another Year Made Possible by the Love of Lillie Mae

i do need that time, though, for naoko's face to appear. and as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. the sad truth is that what i could recall in five seconds all too soon needed ten, then thirty, then a full minute-- like shadows lengthening at dusk. someday, i suppose the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness.

haruki murakami, norwegian wood

Yesterday was my birthday, its number is irrelevant to this writing. I don't usually celebrate my birthday, beyond a moment or two of gratitude for being alive. Prior to her death I saw the day as a time to say thanks to my mother for the life, love, and effort that made each consecutive year possible. Her death made it acutely difficult; her absence and the evolution of grief, the cycle of missing and remembering amplifying the hole of her absence as I tried to detail the source of my gratitude was too much. What had been for years a public acknowledgment, an invitation to all I knew to raise a glass to the woman who was both mother and father to me became a quiet whisper, like a prayer, of thanks. In the 13 years since her death I have often contemplated the nature of grief, the myriad forms it takes and the multitude of ways it makes itself felt; the way it can suddenly feel raw and fresh, erasing years down to days and passing quickly like a summer storm. This past year has been one in which I've found myself confronted by more frequent moments of deep grief, or perhaps more accurately deep missing of my mother. It's possible it goes in cycles, it's possible that this was related to the birth of my newest great-nephew, my niece pointed out that his birthday is exactly 6 months from my mother's (like mine from my brother's). His birth initially made me sad that he'd never know her, which made me miss her. Meeting him made me sad she'd never know him, the boy is gorgeous.

Completely unrelated to my birthday I had people over this weekend. The experience has me re-thinking my approach to my birthday somewhat. I think I've always felt uncomfortable with the idea of being centered for something completely outside of my control. My ambiversion allows me to occupy "look at me" performative moments around actual talents, but the self-centered celebration of a birthday feels uncomfortable. For my gathering I cooked a lot of food, and restrained myself from cooking even more. I'd forgotten how much I like feeding people. It would be nice to return to expressing my gratitude for my life and the people in it more publicly, as an affirmation of my mother's love and lessons. I hope I remember this slowly unfolding epiphany next year. Regardless, although my birthday has passed, it's never too late to say thank you. So where ever you are, whenever you see this, glass in hand or no, please join me in saying, "Thank you Lillie Mae for this moment your effort has brought into being."

For those who never knew her I offer this, written to my community after her death:

dear friends

a week ago monday i buried my mother in nashville. at her funeral my brother said a prayer that articulated what i felt. i will miss her and her pain has ended. for those of you who don't know my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma years ago; she was suppossedly going to die five years ago according to one doctor.

my mother was a strong woman and sometimes a strong silent presence. i think she would have been humbled by the number of people who came to her service. i don't think she always realized how many people loved and respected her. a friend and i were walking recently talking about the ways in which our parents had influenced the people to whom we're attracted. at the time i didn't see it, but eventually the pattern was clear; i'm attracted to strong beautiful women who don't know how strong they are or fully believe in their beauty. women who may make it difficult sometimes to love them. women who are like my mother. i know it's clich├ęd but my mother is my hero. in my junior year of college during a conversation in which i was expressing my problems with coming home, my mother said she would try to make changes but that she was too old to change. i like to think back on that conversation for several reasons. it seems almost funny to me now that i had considered not returning home because my time with my family is like my special haven now. my mother became this increasingly open person, who still had her strong opinions but was willing to listen to mine. what i find funniest though is that this woman who was too old to change continued to grow and try new things and accept challenges with incredible grace and courage.

what more could i aspire to than to be trusted and respected, love every child in my life, and continue to learn and face life with my mother's strength for the rest of my life?

i just wanted to let you know that my mother was a very special woman. and that i love her and miss her. i also wanted to thank you for your friendship and support. i feel blessed by the people who have been in my life. thank you all and be well.


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