Today is the sixth anniversary of my Mom's death. I miss her every day, this day shouldn't be any different just because it's the day she died. I mean, she had breezed through 69 other insignificant January the 16ths, so it shouldn't matter that the 70th one was a bastard. It's probably not the day's fault that she died then; I doubt the day had any choice in the matter and yet I very much dislike this day for making me an orphan.
No matter how old you are when you lose a parent, you still feel like an orphan - or a half orphan in my case because my Dad is still very much alive and missing Mom too. Every day I still keep expecting her to call. Or to walk in the door with my Dad when he arrives at family gatherings. But she keeps not doing that. This day forces me to track exactly how long she has been not doing that.
This day is also the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and as I listened to his tributes today I heard commonalities in their lives. My Mom was not a revered civil rights leader, but she was a truly, deeply, genuinely good person who was always willing to help.
In a sermon given at Ebeneezer Baptist Church just a few months before his assassination, Dr. King quoted one of his favorite hymns:
"If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living will not be in vain."
I don't know if my Mom ever heard this hymn. Maybe - she was raised in the very rural South at a time when every family went to church every Sunday so she could very well have heard it. Whether she heard the words or not, she definitely lived them, offering her quick, easy smile and cheer to everyone she met.
One of the ways she cheered people was with greeting cards. She had cards at the ready for every occasion: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, new baby, second/third/fourth baby, new puppy, every possible holiday, plus a stash of blank cards for whenever Hallmark failed to provide what was needed. Most of these cards had pigs on them because she adored pigs, especially flying ones - it's hard not to smile when you see a flying pig. And she really sent these cards, they didn't molder away in a drawer. She sent everyone she ever knew a birthday card. Decades after I had graduated she sent cards to my old high school friends when their parents died - friends that I had not bothered to keep up with myself. She sent one cross-country friend a joke card every day for six weeks while the friend was undergoing chemo treatments. She actually sent "Thinking of You" cards to people whenever she thought of them. After she died, I heard countless stories of how her card had come at just the right time, had been the perfect thoughtful gesture to help them through a tough time.
I know how they felt because Mom sent me the perfect card a few months after she died. In addition to losing Mom, we had just lost our house and our business to the Great Recession. We were living in a rental home, severely underemployed, barely scraping by and word came from Adam's new employer that due to the financial difficulties the company was facing, paychecks were being "delayed" by at least a month. We didn't have a month, we were barely making it week to week. We were shellshocked from our many losses and scared out of our minds. That night, my sister came over to deliver some helpful guacamole (she also has the gift of cheering people) and she told me a story that gives me chills to this day.
"When I went to the grocery store, I headed for the produce section to get the guacamole ingredients and there, all by itself on top of the avocados, was a greeting card. A pink card with an angelic flying pig on the front and the message inside said, " Never underestimate the power of positive thinking." I was pretty sure I was supposed to bring it to you."
I have no idea how Mom arranged for that card to be exactly in the right place when and where my sister could find it, but I'm absolutely positive that she did. I put the card on my fridge where I could see it anytime I needed it and six years, a new house and multiple new jobs later, it is still there. I guess that's why I still keep expecting her to reach out from the great beyond - because she already has. But I'm guessing that if she ever does it again, it won't be on January 16th. It will be when I really, really need her, just like all the other times.