A friend’s mother died recently so I pulled out stationery and set about writing him a note filled with words of compassionate and deep understanding.
"There is no worse kind of gone than that of Mama," I scribbled.
I paused, remembering a similar note that I had received from Sen. Zell Miller when my own Mama had died. In lovely cursive script, he shared the grief he suffered when his own mother had died – his father passed away when he was 6 months old so his mama raised him. I had been touchingly overwhelmed by the sensitive words of a tough-Marine-turned-tougher-politician. Even the strongest men are softened to mush at thoughts of mama. My heart wrenched because the Senator had passed away the previous week and I was still sorrowing over that loss.
Our friend’s mother had been 97 but there is never a good time to lose Mama. "Tennessee Williams once opined that all men, regardless of age, die too young," I wrote. "That is especially true of Mamas. They all die too young."
The spring before Mama’s death, I developed an infection in a finger, brought on by a manicurist cutting a cuticle too deeply with soiled clippers. No amount of doctoring or antibiotics could save the fingernail and it came off. I was unnerved by this but Mama was comforting and reassuring. Years before, she had lost a nail when she sewed over it while making a dress. She was zipping along, as she was prone to do, when the speed pulled her finger under the rapidly moving needle. Mountain stoic as always, she did not cry or create a commotion. She simply poured alcohol over it, bandaged it and carried on.
"It’ll be fine," she counseled me. "In about a week, a light shell of protection will grow over the tender skin. In a few months, a new nail will grow out completely and it’ll be good as new."
We were talking on the phone while I sat on the second step of the staircase, eyeing the wounded finger. I persisted in my distress while she patiently persisted in her reassurance that it was nothing at all to be worried about. The healing happened exactly as she had promised.
I miss that reassurance and comfort.
The day before she died, we were attending a non-profit fundraiser when someone showed me a letter to the editor of a newspaper that runs this column. A woman had nothing good to say about me but she was particularly vitriolic when she criticized my stories about Mama which she thought were disrespectful. My heart sunk. I never meant to disrespect Mama. I meant only to show her spirit, her wit and the typical ups and downs of a daughter-mother relationship.
As I was absorbing the downright mean words, Mama walked over. I did what I always did when my heart was hurting. I turned to Mama.
"Look at this letter someone wrote about how I talk about you." I was close to sobbing.
Mama took the newspaper and read it while I watched her carefully. Somewhere around halfway through it, her face reddened and fury swept into her eyes. She did not finish it. She wadded it up and handed it back to me.
"That woman needs to mind her own business! How dare her write a letter like that about me and my little girl. I’ll have her know right now that I don’t have a problem with nary a word you write about me. You made Mama a star and I enjoy every minute of it. Besides, you tell it like it is."
My heart lifted, I grabbed her and hugged tightly. "Oh, Mama, thank you!"
I miss that kind of unconditional love and support.
These two stories out of thousands remind me how true it is: There is no worse gone than that of Mama.
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