Mother?s Bond Transcends

Mother’s Bond Transcends Earthly RootsA Daughter Cultivates Her Mother’s Legacy Beyond the Bounds of Place and Time 

By Jennifer Walker-Journey

I have my mother’s hands. They are a woman’s hands, creased and well used. Nearly nine years to the day after my mother passed away, I still remember holding hers, stroking her long fingers, telling her it was OK to die.

There are reminders of her everywhere, pushing out from mounds of pansies in my garden or in passages of a thick Pat Conroy novel. At times I can feel her with an intensity that startles me. Browsing in a garden shop or scraping wallpaper from the walls, I am doing what she did. I am becoming her.

Nine months after her death, on what would have been her 58th birthday, I held her ashes in the palm of my hand, giving her up to the wind of the sea islands. The dust flew into the sky and down into the quiet waters. There was no ceremony, no preacher, no sermon. Just my family, what was left of us, bruised and raw.

We had scattered her ashes off the edge of my parents’ property on Dataw Island, S.C. My parents had looked for nearly a decade for a place to retire when they came upon the Low Country. Like a world all its own, with massive oaks and Gullah traditions, Dataw was both mysterious and mesmerizing. When she spoke of it, my mother looked enchanting.

My parents had purchased the land the year my mother got sick, with plans to retire early and spend their days tending to the native plants, fishing off the pier, maybe teaching pre-law and microbiology at the local community college. There, my mother would heal from the surgeries and treatments. There, she would be healthy.

But the cancer came back. Or maybe it never left her body, lying dormant until we fooled ourselves into thinking that life would be normal again. Cancer does that. It hides in the back of the mind, breathes a chill against your shoulder so you never completely forget. Every pang or muscle ache reignites a shiver of fear. “What if … .”

On a quiet spring morning just before daybreak, the same month ground was to have been broken for their home on Dataw, my mother passed away. The birds still called into the sunrise, the car engine still turned over, people on the street still walked and breathed and made small talk, all unaware that everything had changed. My mother was dead.

I was the only one of my family who remembered that Easter night a year before she died, when we sat at the dinner table and dreamed of their move to Dataw. As we drank the last of the after-dinner wine, my mother said once they moved to Dataw, they would never move again. And when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered into the water at high tide, just below the twisted oak in their backyard that leaned over the marsh’s edge.

I have often been asked if I miss not having a gravesite to visit, a plot of grass on which to drop to my knees and connect with what remains of her. Don’t I feel obligated to visit the property where her ashes were scattered, a place that now holds the house of a stranger, someone who never will know the secrets of that sprawling oak tree out back?

I stand now, my feet bathed in the gently swaying waters of the Gulf Coast, hundreds of miles and many years from where my mother’s ashes flew. She is with me. She is the water, riding currents across this mighty Earth. She is the air I breathe, the wind that tangles my hair. I have felt her during my child’s birth, in the still nights rocking my son to sleep, with my grandmother who since spiraled into the darkness of dementia. I speak to her in the quiet of my car and in the vast space between earth and stars.

There is no comfort in losing a mother, just the raw burn when memories rub against the mind. I choose to visit her here, in the static of my senses – for this is as close to heaven that I know.