Where the sun always shines through

Kevin Riordan and his mother, Ruth, who died a year ago today. "In those disorienting first weeks afterward, I dream of her smiling."
Kevin Riordan and his mother, Ruth, who died a year ago today. "In those disorienting first weeks afterward, I dream of her smiling."
Posted: March 24, 2014

My mother died on March 23, 2013, less than a month before her 83d birthday.

She took her leave as I was driving back to Massachusetts, to the nursing facility where she spent the sad last months of her life.

I hoped to be with her when she passed away. But she wanted to go home so badly that I wouldn't have asked her to wait, even if I'd had the chance.

In those disorienting first weeks afterward, I dream of her smiling, and wearing summer clothes. She's herself, the way she is in those early memories to which I seem to possess an enhanced and vivid access.

I'm a little boy, having breakfast in the sunny kitchen, my mother singing along as "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window" arf-arfs on the radio.

We're sitting near the Futurama exhibit at the World's Fair, with sandwiches she made especially for our family's big adventure.

And all six of us kids are swimming in the lake with our cousins, while she sits on the blanket with her sister, keeping an eye on everyone and working on her tan.

Like my dad, who died in 1995, my mother loved to read. He was a linotype operator and assembled other people's words for a living; she was a teacher's aide who knew how to turn a phrase.

My mother wrote letters, kept journals, and exchanged limericks with an equally witty friend named Nan.

She was a saver, a record-keeper, a snapshot-taker, and a devoted maker of photo albums and scrapbooks for her six children.

The scrapbook she made for me has a red cover. Inside, she has arranged and affixed and captioned all manner of kiddie-bilia, school reports, even a Mother's Day card I made in third grade.

She curated this permanent exhibit about my childhood, and later, kept and cataloged the stories I wrote and mailed home for 30 years.

The folders are labeled in her printlike penmanship, which I love for the unpretentious precision of the letters, the consistent distinctiveness, the strength. Reading anything she wrote, I can hear her putting her thoughts together. I can see her speaking.

Rediscovering so much evidence of a life well lived (hers, and mine) makes me want to thank her, call her up, share the latest.

I need to tell her that the church where all six of us made our First Holy Communion was about to be torn down to make way for a CVS, until CVS changed its mind.

I need to tell her that the newspaper where my father worked for 35 years and where my first byline appeared, the newspaper that printed her obituary, has itself ceased to exist.

And I need to tell her I'm sorry that her last months, that unhappy ending she surely did not deserve, were a time when the best I could do for her fell well short of good enough.

But after all the sad stuff, she'd surely get a kick out of hearing that I at last can understand what she discovered when she turned 60.

"Everyone is holding the door for me," she said, noting wryly that what first seemed like an etiquette epidemic was simply deference to the older person she had become.

So I'll end with the memory of another truth she shared with me.

It's spring, probably in 1957, and the morning fog is so deep I can't see the tulips bursting from the earth on the side of our new house on Burnham Street.

I run inside and tell her the fog is kind of scary. What if it stays like this forever?

"The sun is behind the fog," my mother says.

"Have patience. The fog will burn off. And when it does, the sun will shine."

It did.


856-779-3845 @inqkriordan


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