My mother passed away in 1999 at the age of 79. I think she literally grieved herself to death in the last year of her life, missing my dad as she did. They had been together as a couple and in marriage for 60 years when he passed, and her life never held the same sense of completeness afterwards.
I still sometimes feel as though she’s going to walk into a room and start telling me something, or give me advice on a situation. Her presence is still viable in my life, for which I am very grateful. Many people loved her, and still miss her. Many days lack her humor and wit, something that was such a big part of my developement as a woman. She never backed down, never gave in just because other people disapproved.
Mom was Doris Mildred Denham before she was a married woman. Everyone called her Mildred. Neither of her names were satisfactory to her. She used to insist that in every movie or television show, there was a character by the name of either Doris or Mildred who was a secretary or other underling to whom little or no respect was given. I think she often thought the same held true in her life. She seemed to always lack the confidence, in spite of her natural spunk, to be truly great at anything.
That was not the case for those of us who loved her. She was a great and influential woman. My friends came to her for nurturing and homemade dinners that they didn’t get in their own homes. What other career oriented women were withholding from their daughters in the way of everyday wisdom and instruction, my mother supplied generously. She never worked, she gladly let my father pay the bills, carry the weight of financial responsibilities and never resented it in any way. She ruled the home, though. No doubt about it, and no arguments either. She was among the last of that generation who took control of their domain with all of the skills and determination that had passed from her grandmothers and mother, and which she tried to instill in me.
I never really appreciated all of that domestic skill and artistry until later, in my twenties, when it became apparant that these were gifts that I could pass on to others. Suddenly, in a flash of inspiration, I wanted to cook and design a home and be competent in the house. Even though I wasn’t married, the idea of controlling my environment with the domestic skills of my mother’s era was a revelation. I was a “martha stewart” before I ever heard of her. That, in retrospect, I owe to my mother.
Even today, a friend has invited me over for a Mother’s Day meal, and is asking me to set the table with her own mother’s china and crystal. I will gladly fulfill this request, in honor of my mother and how well she advised me in these things: creating a beautiful and welcoming space, and enhancing the lives of others by how they are treated in my domain.
I have memories now, pictures and words of wisdom firmly ingrained in my soul. My mother was loved, continues to be loved and cherished by me, and by those whose lives were enriched by her care and attention.
Happy Day, mom.