The Lessons of Flesh and Stone

You’d think a 29-year-old woman would have outgrown her fear of the dark. For the most part I had, but statues in the dark were another matter. The childish side of me feared the Blessed Mother statue in my mother’s garden- my siblings would put the light on for me before I rushed by, then snicker as I gratefully shut the effigy out in the gloom.

Not that I had anything against Mary, Mother of God.  Quite the opposite- I was, and am, grateful to her for humbly bearing her beautiful son that I claim as my Savior. It was not her likeness that caused my aversion- I merely disliked seeing a cold, lonely figure in an unlit garden.

I realize now how naive I was. True horror is watching someone fade away despite their incredible will to live… and not knowing who will be next.

Now that Mom is gone, I smile sadly when I encounter the statue; it can’t faze me these days. I’d rather watch it in the dead of night- every night- than endure this pain.  The Mary that haunts me today was warm, flesh and blood, love pulsing in my veins. Her suffering is the stuff real nightmares are made of.

It’s been years, but the dreams still come. Rarely is Mom as she was- smiling, laughing out of nowhere, kind. She’s usually clumsy and confused, as in her final days. “I’m not your mother anymore, Amanda,” she resigns, and I panic as I realize I’m about to watch her final hours repeat for the hundredth time. I cringe in anticipation of her screams for help. She knows she’s dying- as a nurse she understands these signs too well. There’s nothing she can do, nothing any of us can do.
In the early days following her death, I’d wake from those dreams with a lingering sense of doom. Reality wasn’t better than my subconscious world- except for the comfort in knowing that her pain was over. But that offered little consolation when I still had the rest of my life to face without my mother.

In her absence, I gathered as many of her things as I could. I hugged her clothes, displayed her favorite knick-knacks, placed my hand on the cement handprint she’d made (while laughing) at my request. She’d had the softest hands- I knew that a stone version would never suffice, but it was something.

One more distinguished keepsake is another statue- this one representing the love of generations. I gifted Mom a beautiful angel that shields a lion and lamb within its glittering robe. It sparkled on her mantel for years, then on my grandmother’s end table after that. Grandma chose that particular angel out of many when Mom insisted she pick one to protect her after Grandpa’s death, then sweetly penned its story and exchange of ownership along with “Love, Mary” on the bottom.

With each exchange, the angel lost some glitter but gained significance- she is now one of my greatest treasures. Though stiff and still, lacking the past vitality of my progenitors, she is loved. It’s a hollow sentiment, because she doesn’t love me in return, but I can still see the awe on Mom’s face when she unwrapped her, I remember Mom’s compassion when I trace my finger along the inscription. The echoes of the past that surround her are priceless.

None of us are soft and warm for long. In time, the trinkets we acquire will be all that’s left of us, and the memories attached to them will be our legacies. May they be benevolent.  May they be meaningful. May they be cherished.

One reply on “The Lessons of Flesh and Stone”

Thinking of you, Amanda, on this difficult day. Your mother was so loved. (And you were so loved by her). Peace to you, my friend. May God heal your grief and turn your heart to sweet memories of days that were gifts for you both. One day in heaven there is going to be one big hug.

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