I had my very first ultrasound when I was about 7 weeks pregnant with Dora. I'd had a horrible stomach flu the weekend we found out I was pregnant, and the doctor wanted to be sure everything looked good because it took me a few days to feel better. The tiny bundle of cells that would be Dora floated around on the screen, looking a bit like a tiny seahorse. Inside the seahorse was a tiny flashing light - little electric charges pulsing through cardiac tissue, like a miniature lighthouse in the fog. That was the first moment that I actually felt pregnant, the first time I felt some sort of connection with the life forming inside of me. At that time, only Brian and I knew about the pregnancy, and the little flashing light was our secret, the silent tiny life force making its way, lighting up within me like a star being formed.
This weekend we drove to Ohio for my cousin Rachael's wedding. I drove alone, delayed by a meeting as Brian and Dora headed north through the West Virginia mountains. It was the first time since having Dora that I made the trip without her. I listened to music, caught up on my favorite podcasts, let my mind wander as the long afternoon shadows turned to darkness, the sun slipping behind the lumbering mountains. I thought again of the tiny light, of the way that one life can be carried within another, that just below my heart, at my very center, a flashing bulb of promise and future could secretly hide. I thought about my mom, as I always do when I drive towards the home we shared, towards her family. I wished more than anything that she could be there with us to see her grand-niece get married, to celebrate another beautiful occasion, another life begun.
The wedding was lovely, the bride and her sisters glowing like that afternoon sun, bright pink roses all around. Brian played the music, my brother performed the ceremony. Dora played with her cousin, and later danced like a madwoman alongside the white dress, the pink satin heels, the groomsmen in their matching gray suits. Like any good family event, it was mutli-generational - from grandmothers to toddlers. All the tables were decorated with votive candles placed in recycled glass jars of varying sizes - Ball jars, baby food jars, spaghetti sauce jars. My mother would have loved that.
On the way home, this time with Dora sleeping in my backseat, I listened to part of a This American Life podcast about murder. I turned it off, for it was too disturbing for my taste. But before I did I heard the story of a woman who's father was murdered when she was 10 years old. She had spent years wondering who committed the crime, gathering evidence, hoping for some explanation. She met with a crime reporter who, upon reviewing what she had gathered, told her to forget it. Instead of being disappointed, she found herself feeling free, feeling liberated from the burden of searching for an answer, a person to blame, the bitter taste of revenge. She thought that her father would not want her spending all of her time obsessing over his death. Instead, she would focus on his memory, and on moving forward in her own life.
It is very easy to get bogged down in the fact that my mother died, to marvel at the unfairness of it all, to recoil at the friend complaining about her own mother, to be filled with heavy, weighty, suffocating grief at the thought of never speaking to my wonderful mom again. I remember that, the day that she died, I did not want to go to sleep, because I knew it would be the last day in which we were both alive. What would my mother want me to be thinking about, what would she want me to be doing with her memory? Would she want me to think about how she died, how she left so much before her time, how things could have been different? I know all of these are natural thoughts to have, but probably she would want me to focus on ways to keep her in my life, on staying connected, on carrying her forward into my daughter's world in some real and tangible way.
Sometimes I feel like maybe that flashing light is still inside of me, a life being carried forward just below my heart, keeping me warm, connecting with me, staying a part of this world. Perhaps we can keep our loved ones with us that way, glowing out from within. I go to the weddings and the funerals and the family picnics not only as myself, but to represent my mother, who would certainly be there if she were able. She's there, glowing inside of me, a flickering votive in a recycled glass jar, a symbol of life and love that can't be easily explained, that transcends time, that sustains and protects and eases, ever so slightly, the pain of losing her.