On my desk stands a photo of my daughters, sisters, grandson, mother and me. It was taken at the time of mum’s 96th birthday in August 2018. My eldest sister had it mounted on a block of wood and gave it to mum. It graced the desk at the end of her bed, beside her TV. She looked at it every day as French CBC played on the screen and she sat in her wheelchair and watched and listened to life beyond her room. She prayed for each of us in the photo and often placed a finger she’d kissed against her great-grandson’s face.
As I sit at my desk and watch the river flow in the ever-widening channel it carves through the ice and the sun slowly tints the sky rose and pink and periwinkle blue, I feel the presence of that photo. It graces my desk now. It holds memory. It tells a story. Of the past. Of the future.
Tears well up in my eyes. Not because I miss my mother, or wish she were here right now to tell me what to do or how to handle challenges and obstacles on my path. She wasn’t that kind of mother.
My mother was the magnet that brought us all together. She was the one who drew my daughter home to Calgary from Vancouver and my sister from her home in the Gulf Islands. She was the one whose significant birthdays we celebrated as a family whenever possible. Her dancing girls and grand-daughters. Her grandson who gave her the courage, when he was born, to remember the joy of having a son without the pain of his loss over-shadowing her memories.
This photo is her story of life, its threads woven through the warp and weave of her journey. It is full of the threads she held in her crooked, misshapen fingers and sometimes used to lovingly place kisses on the faces of those she loved. It is surrounded by photos of her mother, father, brothers, sisters, her children, grand-daughters and her grandson.
These photos crowded the walls of her room. Every day she would look at them, say prayers for the departed and those still here. There was little room for a new story to be told on the walls of her room when her time ran out. Yet, the story told in this photo will continue.
It will weave its way into being without my mother’s hands guiding and drawing the story-makers together. It will unfold without my mother’s fingers reaching out, as she does with her grandson in this photo, to link the generations together.
And that is why I cry. A link to the past has broken. There is only the future to foretell. A future where my mother’s hands do not reach across the distance to draw us all together for one more photo of all of us standing around her. Her dancing girls and granddaughters, her great-grandson and her soon to be born, great-granddaughter.
We are now the link. We are now the gatherers. The ones who must draw together the weave and warp of our tapestry to create rich and vibrant hues and stories that will unfold in time.
We are the history-keepers, the story-makers, the tellers of the past, the architects of the future.
I feel the absence of my mother in the photo this morning. She was the one who brought us all together. In her absence, I see the photo that will be taken this summer when my granddaughter is born and a photo is taken of her when she is three months old. Just as my grandson is in this photo.
And I hear my mother’s voice telling me as she so often did when I was younger, in the times before I became a mother and held in disdain her love of family and her desire to gather us all together, “One day you will understand and you will know what family means. I pray you never forget.”
I hear you mum. I know. I will not forget.