My mother died a year ago between Christmas and New Years. I’ve thought about her often and that song from the musical Rent keeps reappearing, “how do you measure a year? In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?”
How do we measure a life? Here’s one way. Between Christmas 2020 and New Years 2021, I wrote this letter.
You’ve missed great grandbabies, a messy election, Covid 19. Not much visiting in 2020. That would have been hard for us, tougher for you. So many changes this year.
I walked onto my deck tonight, to see the full moon and to remember you. In the crisp, cold winter, stars lit up above and cars rumbled on the highway. You remember that turnpike spur. You drove it often: errands, kids, carpools.
The world darkened outside, but the atmosphere all around glowed. I wondered, do souls twinkle with the stars, in the heavens. Many of us wonder, “are there heavens?”
I like being alone on the deck to feel both the solitude and being part of something bigger. I felt me, you, and us in family, the one you came from and the one you raised. How did you manage with seven of us? Moms do, I guess. I understand why you craved a bath, some jiffy pop, your robe and slippers. I know you preferred more private time, to relax, to read; biographies of Jackie Kennedy, or anything about World War II.
On the deck, I wore that scarf you gave me and pulled it up over my chin as I gazed around. Occasional stars flickered. Where do people go? Are you there? Remember when we cross-country skied by starlight?
I lingered and reminisced, as I imagine most people do, about solstices, holiday seasons, the turning of a new year. How do we measure a life? In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife? Speaking of coffee, I remembered how you drank yours black with a tiny splash of milk. Now Jon drinks his decaf from your blue and green LL Jeanne mug, the pottery one the staff made for you at your assisted care home because of your love for L.L.Bean, the mug where the words pop at the bottom after you finish the liquid, a surprise “I love you!!” How you smiled when you saw those words.
How did you live to 93 and what connections live after the rupture of death? Cul-de-sac neighbors, Maine communities, New England partners, sharing one planet, all in this world together. I imagined people of different ancestries, customs, skin colors, languages. I remembered your French. My wonderings grew to the universal, and returned to the individual, to you. I remembered places: where you grew up, where you lived, where you died; your Westbrook, college in New York, professional school in Boston, family days in Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland.
At your funeral, it wasn’t calm like tonight. All seven of us showed up, with husbands, wives, partners, kids, some grandkids, cousins, aunts. You would have liked the service. Too bad those who have passed pass up their own party. We displayed pictures of you and Dad. As a eulogy, I read a letter you wrote to me while I was at college. We measured your life. I’ll tell you more about it next time.
p.s. the Rent song ends, “seasons of love, measure your life in love.”