“When your mom dies you’re the best memory of her. Everything you do is a memory of her.” – Alice Oswalt, seven years old.
These are the words young Alice chose to eulogize her mother, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara. It was doubtlessly influenced by her writing and her father's. Her dad, Patton Oswalt, was surprisingly free of words at the passing of his wife of thirteen years. The usually effusive tweeter has been hushed since April 21, when Michelle didn't wake up.
What words are there to describe that moment when, as Bambi's father so indelicately put it, "Your mother can't be with you anymore?" Like Patton, I tend to come up empty.
This past week, as I have for years previous, I have had kids design Mother's Day cards to be printed out in our computer lab. In all that time, I have encountered a few sad moments when I have met the eyes of a little boy or girl, starting to well with tears. "What's the matter?" I ask this with mild certainty of the answer.
"I don't have a mom."
"Sure you do."
"I live with my auntie."
Some of these kids have never met their mothers. Some of them see their mothers for a moment here and there, to keep up appearances. Some of them are relieved. But all of them are sad not to have someone for whom they can make a card with hearts and flowers and frogs. "Why not make one for your auntie? She helps you be ready for the day. She helps you like..." And then I stop because I have no idea what I'm talking about.
This past week, Eric came to my class and had his usual challenge getting settled and started. By the time the class was winding down, he had a stick figure with a curl of hair on top and the word "MOM" next to "ERIC." It was the low end of the expectation scale, but it was the minimum for this second grader. I knew Eric's mother and wondered out loud if he felt she might deserve a little more effort. Eric was done. He had moved on to the next thing, which was scrambling to be first in line.
What I didn't know at the time was that Eric's mother had died the night before. Eric didn't know either. He had spent the weekend with his grandmother. There was still a reckoning to be had. He spent the rest of the day in a second grade haze that will always be remembered as the day after his mother died. Just a few days before Mother's Day.
Eric will always have a mother, and everything he does will be a memory of her. He is the best memory of her.
Everybody cries. Everybody dies. Everybody poops. And everybody has a mom.