This series is dedicated to the greatest person I’ll ever know, my mom, Judy Lynn Bailey Bisgard. The title is borrowed from Kanye West’s “Hey Mama,” and each week’s column is written for all our mothers, that we may never forget their divine presence in our lives.
Please send your submissions of your mom to firstname.lastname@example.org
They say you don’t actually die until the last time someone says your name. I don’t like that. I can’t reconcile that we live for decades, (an eternity for someone like me who has no concept of time,) but just like that be forgotten forever. I already never knew how to deal with the absolution of death. Trying to accept another finality, another “stage,” if you will, was too much for me to comprehend. When the truth of this realization set in, that no matter what I did my 2nd time would come and any semblance of my existence would leave this world, I panicked. I felt like I had to do whatever I could to reassure myself someone, preferably as many people as possible, knew I existed. I lashed out any time I felt insignificant, hoping someone would acknowledge me and quell my constant fear of invisibility. I racked myself with guilt for not spending time with loved ones, consoling myself with promises of time made in the future. Past transgressions and neglect were okay because I would make it all up if I could just get to a particular stage in life.
Only I never got to, because three weeks ago my mom died in her sleep. All my plans, gone. All my promises, empty. The life I’d been planning for her, the reconciliations I’d been sure I was going to give, never came to fruition. They stayed in my head where they’d been for five years, and so that’s where I went too. I retreated to the farthest recesses of my memory, back to the last time I heard her voice, saw her soft green eyes that read more than they conveyed, felt her embrace that still managed to envelope me even though I’d been half a foot taller than her for ten years. Like a curator I cared for her memory, determined to preserve it perfectly as my last tribute to a woman I worried I’d never given anything but strife. I hoarded her memory to myself, unwilling to share it for fear I’d be forced to confront the truth that it was a memory. She really was gone and no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t with her. I was alive, shut off from everyone, in my imagination where my mom isn’t dead, where my phone will go off with her text or where I’ll hear her soothing twangy “hi baby,” and know I’m back home.
Unfortunately, no matter what we do to avoid it, reality eventually forces us to confront its presence. Try as I might I had to acknowledge my mother’s death. There were arrangements to be made, family members to notify, an entire house to do more with than sit in the middle of it and pray she came walking in. But as I got to work, as I began the long terrible road of laying someone to their death, I found my mother was far from gone. I found her strength in the selflessness of her friends and family, in their insistence on tending to everyone except themselves because “it’s what Judy would have done.” I heard her voice, her personality, in the stories shared between friends as people separated by miles and decades gathered to ruminate on perhaps the only connection still tying them to one another. I felt her love in the heartache of those who had never before realized just how big of a space she occupied in their hearts and minds.
At first I felt so guilty for not knowing this part of my mom. Then, I realized because her life was so much bigger than I could’ve imagined, it’ll be generations before this world even thinks of forgetting her. So I set out to write this series. I wanted to use it to memorialize my mom and insure her spirit never experiences Death’s second stage. But when I sat down to write, I wondered how many others there were like me. How many others lie awake at night and replay the last time they saw their mom, wondering if she felt the love entirety of the love you have, if she knew how important she is.
With that in mind, I want to expand this piece. I want to talk about my mom, but I want to talk about your moms as well. I never believed it, but my mom always said I was pretty good at this. Maybe I can use this just above mediocre penchant for writing and channel it into something memorable, something cathartic for both myself and those willing to let me tell their mom’s stories. If you’re reading this, please, send me a story about your mom, whether she’s sitting next to you or looking down on you from on high. I promise I’ll do my best to give everyone’s mom the praise and celebration they deserve.