Seventy years ago I was born. That same day, about 4 hours later, my mother died. I've known that all my life. She was 33.|
My father was just out of the Navy, having won World War Two. He and I traveled back to his hometown, where I proceeded to grow up. When I was five, he acquired another wife; I acquired a stepmother. About a year later, he died. He was 44.
I learned relatively little about my mother. I knew her name. From the one small picture I had, I knew she was pretty, and had black hair like me, even though she was Irish. She had been married twice before my father, and had a child from each. When I was 11 I met her parents, and my half-brother and half-sister, and spent a summer with them. If I had been a little older and knew what to ask, I probably could have learned a lot more from them, but she remained a bit of a mystery.
I lost touch with those half-siblings. They had lives to live, and so did I; school, college, marriages, divorces, work. I often thought about my mother, though, and wondered what it might have been like to know her, to grow up with her. Imagining the impossible is not very rewarding, though.
A few years ago I met a friend who knows genealogy, and we climbed my family tree. With a bit of research one can not only find relatives hundreds of years back, but piece together their life stories, and picture what they may have been like. There were knights, adventurers, farmers, teachers...and I found my half-siblings again.
I also found my mother's grave. She was not buried next to anyone in the family, or even anyone she knew. Her grave is all alone in a cemetery in Chicago, with no stone to mark it. That was something to think about.
I don't believe in gods or afterlives, but somehow this woman, the mother I'd never known, is connected to me, and I am connected to her. She should have had a stone 70 years ago, but she didn't.
She's going to have one now. Designed, ordered, and paid for. Nothing too fancy, but she will no longer be anonymous.
True, this makes no logical sense. The dead don't know. I don't visit cemeteries much. I don't want one for myself. But this is the one thing I can do for the woman who gave me life. She won't know, but I will.
When we say Rest in peace, what we wish is for the memory of the departed to rest peacefully in our minds.
It does not mean we want to forget, nor that we should not shed tears sometimes when we think of them, wishing they could be still with us, but that their existence in our memories will be a harmonious part of ourselves, like a warm embrace.
--Michael, November 2016