In my memories, Mom is waving

Karen Garloch’s late mother, Mildred Wessel, standing on the front porch of her house in Jackson County, in southern Indiana.
Karen Garloch’s late mother, Mildred Wessel, standing on the front porch of her house in Jackson County, in southern Indiana. Courtesy of Karen Garloch

(This story originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2011.)

My mother is standing on her front porch, waving.

I have been visiting for a few days in southern Indiana, and as I drive down the long gravel lane, I stick my arm out the car window and wave back. Even after I turn onto the highway, I continue to wave, and for as long as I can see, she's waving back.

This was our tradition. At the end of my visits, even in winter, she would stand there, in her thin rose-colored house coat, waving until my car - and my waving arm - were out of sight.

Now, it's my mother who's gone.

The last time I saw her on that porch was in July 2007. Three months later, she died from complications after surgery.

At 87, she had still been very independent. She lived alone on the farm where I grew up and drove herself to church, card club socials and doctors' appointments.

Her death was unexpected and devastating. For months, I couldn't talk about her without crying.

A grief counselor suggested I work out my feelings in a journal, maybe as a letter to mom. Even though I've kept journals for years, it was harder than I thought to carve out 30 quiet minutes a day to write. But when I did, my thoughts came pouring out - memories of her last days in intensive care, doubts about whether I was a good enough advocate for her at the hospital, sadness over the sale of the farm that had been in our family for 100 years, thoughts of my own mortality, and worries that my siblings and I would drift apart without our parents at the center of our lives.

When I read some of my journal to my counselor, the part that made me cry was the story of my sweet, smiling mom standing on that country porch.

But my counselor's response surprised me.

Why should it be sad? she asked. That's a wonderful memory. You have it with you forever. You can see it any time you want. Didn't you carry it with you between your visits, even when your mother was alive?

Her questions turned my thinking around. Today, when I tell the story, I can smile. When I think of mom waving from the porch, I'm reminded of how wonderful it was to have her in my life for 56 years.

As Mother's Day approached for the fourth time since her death, I still felt accosted by ads for gift ideas and long aisles of greeting cards. I think of all the people like me who don't have mothers to send cards to.

Of course, I had differences with my mom. But she was generous and loving. She wanted me to be happy and never complained when I moved 500 miles away, to a job in another state and a life so different from her own.

I'm thankful she lived long enough for me to appreciate where I came from and what she did for me.

So, on this Mother's Day, I'm not able to send my mom a Hallmark card or a bouquet of flowers. But in my mind, I can go back to our farm.

I'm sticking my arm out the car window.

And she's standing there on the porch, for as long as I can see, waving back.

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch