Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Monarch Butterfly

Last Saturday, I called my daughter-in-law, Anna, as soon as we got back from our hike. “Remind me about when you saw that Monarch Butterfly?”

“Oh,” she replied. “It was amazing.”

I leaned back in the worn leather club chair to listen.

“I drove into the driveway,” she said, “and there it was fluttering in front of the white garage door….”

“That’s right,” I interrupted, “I’d been there visiting Baby Grace, and you’d mentioned it when you came through the door.”

“Yeah,” she continued. “I was thinking it was weird seeing it because I hadn’t seen any in the migration that went through Los Feliz recently. Then I saw you in the den with Grace, and I knew it was Nana, Heath.”

It was timely, Anna’s sighting. A few days before, I’d received what would be my last “coping with grief” letter from the Jewish Home For The Aging - letters that I’d received throughout this first year of mourning a parent as part of Jewish tradition. There were mostly poems and articles as an aid to deal with the loss of my mother. I would glance over them, maybe read a poem or two, and at times, dismiss the letters altogether.

I’m fine. I thought, Mom’s in a better place. She’d lived a long, full life. She’s out of a physical body that had succumbed to Parkinson’s. One-liners that moved me forward.

Truth is, I hadn’t really moved forward. I just kept busy keeping myself busy. Yet, there were a few times this past year I’d allowed my grief to rise to the surface. Losing Mom would hit me out of nowhere. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked my oldest son, Allan, on Mother’s Day. “I’m not good today. I can’t stop crying. It kind of surprises me. I thought that I was fine.”

Or, in line at airport security last Fall, when a TSA agent admired the pendant I often wear, engraved with Mom’s monogram. “You’ll always have your mother with you when you wear that,” she’d said after I’d told her it was Mom’s monogram with mine on the back. I’d cried, picking my carry-on off the belt. “What’s wrong with me, Hank?” I’d asked my husband after we’d cleared security.

The Jewish religion has death wired. Although I’m not Jewish, it was something that I admired deeply the day Mom passed away. The Rabbi. The support. And it didn’t end there. There’s not much this wonderful religion misses when it comes to loss. I was contacted regularly this past year. Those letters. A phone call from Hospice. …How are you doing?Recognize that your mother is gone. Deal with her loss. It’s healthy to feel your grief. And, it’s part of life…

A lot has happened since Mom has passed.  Her grandson, Allan, welcomed what would have been Mom’s first great-grandchild. A baby girl, Grace Marlowe. The Mar named after Mom’s name, Marilyn – the low, after Grace’s maternal great-grandmother, Lorraine, who passed recently.

I can just hear what Mom would say. “I got top-billing!”  It would have been all about her. 

“Grace is a looker,” she’d say. “She’ll never have trouble finding a man!”

This past April, her only granddaughter, Hilary, got engaged. “It’s hard to think that you never met Nana,” Hilary, said to her fiancĂ©, Oliver, recently at a family dinner.

“He’s a winner,” Mom would say. Proud that Hilary, who, like my mother, “got out there” and made a new life for herself.

She’d be proud of her grand-daughter-in-law, Anna, a wonderful mother to Grace. 

Mom, who loved men but championed women, would say: “See, even with the kid and the career, Anna still makes time for the husband.”

I shifted forward in the chair, my left hand holding the phone, my right hand splayed on my knee.  “Anna, Hank and I were on a hike today and this Monarch butterfly - it looked like the one Nana tattooed on her ankle- it flew right in front of me and I remembered your experience.”

Photo Credit: Hank

 “I know. I wondered and turned to Hank and told him that you thought about Nana when you’d seen that Monarch in front of the garage. I told him to take a picture of it quick before it goes away.”

“Hank quickly leaned toward it with his camera, then, all of the sudden that butterfly took off from the bush and headed straight for me.”

“No way!”

 “And smacked right into the rim of my hat! Bam!” I laughed. “It’s like Mom was telling me to pay attention!  It’s been a year. Stop with the hair shirt and quit with the constant keeping busy. You’re like a shark. You can stop moving now. I’m gone, but I’ll always be with you. Relax for Crissakes.”

On July 26th, my year of mourning will be “officially” over. 

Time to celebrate that butterfly with the knowledge that Mom is all around me. That she knows Grace. Knows Oliver, and watches over all of us.

The signs are there. I’m paying attention now.  Her voice is in my head.

The evening of the 26th, Hank and I are going to a party celebrating my oldest friend’s fortieth wedding anniversary. Just a little over a year ago, we’d been at her son’s wedding when I got the call that Mom had taken a turn and needed hospice care. 

The year has come full circle.

And, how fitting to round it out at a party. My mother always loved a party. 

“Belly up to the bar,” she’d tell me. “And hoist a few for me.”

Cheers, Mom. Thank you…