Why am I making this so complicated? It sounded so simple….
I wanted to do something special each year in memory of my mother. But I wanted it to be as special as she was. Something so amazing. So the whole world would know exactly what it lost when she died. Maybe a walk in her name with millions of people, or a school named after her. Perhaps a hospital with her initials on it.
But when January 13th circled around that first year I hadn’t found a way to do any of those things. So you know what happened…..Instead her memory stayed stuck inside my brain violently banging around needing a way to get out. I couldn’t even whisper her name outloud without falling to pieces. I was consumed with sadness daily still so raw from losing her and now to top it off I added disappointment with myself for not doing something enormous in her honor. So what did I do? I am going to tell you but a little background first.
My mom, Linda Beatrice Clarke was born April 20, 1950. She loved to paint. She got her degree in art education. When I was growing up she taught at the local Naperville park district referred to as the Barn for any Naperville folks reading this. She taught pre-K arts and craft classes and also introduction to painting with adults. She loved it. We always had mounds of construction paper, feathers, markers, and glue at my house. In the evening she would be prepping for her preschool classes making the basics for hand puppets or whatever. On days I would stay home sick from school I would go and hide out in the prep room while she taught her classes at the barn. I loved watching her and the kids in her class.
Growing up I loved doing random crafts with her. In the days before Pinterest she was an expert in creative kid projects whether it be a popsicle stick house, lunch bag puppets, or puffy paint. We did it all but as I got older into my teenage years the only art I really connected with was photography which didn’t involve a paintbrush or scissors so I wasn’t so sure it was even art at the time.
After the first two anniversaries on January 13th of my mom’s death passed and I did nothing outside my own mind to observe it. What exactly does that mean? January 13th was day filled with racing thoughts of anger and sadness mixed with a million of my own tears. By days end I felt depleted and hoping that January 14th would be a better day. After two years of feeling awful I decided the the next year would have to be different.
Another year passed and this time the night before I had a plan. I would walk around town taking photos of whatever looked interesting to me. My mom loved art so I would do “art” in her honor. The night before on January 12th the sky opened up and it rained which is unusual in a Michigan winter. But the temperature dropped quickly after the rainstorm and when I woke in the morning everything had turned to ice crystals. It was stunning. What is even more interesting is it has now happened twice on January 12th. Everything looked gorgeous that morning coated in ice. I couldn’t take a bad picture if I tried. Fun fact: in my last house I had three large photos hanging when you walked up to the second floor. Two of those photos the objects were coated in ice, they were from that first morning that I went out on January 13th.
As time has gone on I have been challenged to think of ways to include my children in a tradition. So again I stopped doing anything because I couldn’t think of something special enough for my family to do with me. I tried one year doing arts and crafts with my kids but it just felt forced. Then my therapist said why don’t you just light a candle. My instinct was “because that isn’t special and unique enough.” However I thought more about it and decided it was better than nothing and to give it a try. I went to the mall and picked out what I thought was great smelling candle. I told myself it doesn’t have to be perfect. It is the idea of bringing attention to my mom on this day. If I wait for finding the perfect candle with the best scent then again I will be stopped in my tracks because nothing will ever be good enough.
So I found one I liked. You know what on January 13th I lit that candle in the morning with my kids and I decided I would tell them a fun story about my mom as part of the tradition. I did the same exact thing on April 20th her birthday. You know what. I loved it. I have done it for two years now. Is it as enormous and community wide impactful as I originally wanted and needed it to be? No not to the community but in my house it is special. In my heart it is impactful. My children get to learn something fun about my mom and their own history that day. It opens up the discussion about countless topics. So in search for a whale of a tradition I found a tiny Nemo sized one that is just right for us. It is everything I need it to be.