18 May 2008

Hour of Lead

My Dad Saying Goodbye to my Mom

I was in the middle of New York City on May 8th, by myself, when I received the news my mother had been killed in a horrific accident at the construction site of her and my father's new home. I became disoriented and confused with the shock and grief, but a young girl named Banika and friends I was traveling with guided me back to the hotel and on to a plane to join my family in Utah. I am still speechless. There is a rock upon my chest that feels heavy and tight. Here are the words I gave in tribute at her funeral:

I have spent years trying to be nothing like my mother. And when I opened the paper this past Sunday, Mother's Day, and saw her picture, I saw so much of myself reflected in her image, it brought me to my knees... I felt honored to be my mother's daughter.

Our relationship was sometimes tenuous... she is a fierce mother of strong daughters. I remarked to my dad yesterday that through this time of coming together I have noticed that the Toole women are very controlling, he replied, "You've just noticed". That tenacity, grit and inner resolve was a gift she gave to each of us.

My mother was like no other. She opened up a world of wonder and adventure to us. Exploring the edges of Blue Lake at East Fork, taking in the beauty of the freshly bloomed bluebells. She took us to the Seely Ranch in Colorado where we climbed the shale hills along the river and rode the horses for miles. She let us roam freely at her childhood home creating bonds with our cousins that provide the glue of strong families. She was a brilliant conspirator of snipe hunts at Girl Scout camp. My mother brought home refrigerator boxes and we would construct fantastic forts with every blanket, sheet, pillow, trinket and toy from the house and she would let us keep them up for weeks. She frequently took us to the zoo and let me perfect my roar at the mountain lions and introduced me to Shasta the Liger. She helped us dye thousands of Easter eggs to be thrown at other relatives in a bizarre ritual of the Stephens clan. She was a room mother and my husband and I remember being in Mrs. Sadler's third grade class where she left an indelible impression on both of us wearing cat-eye glasses and a flashy polka-dot shift which we now fondly refer to as the "wonder-bread dress".

My mother was mischievous and ditzy and flirtatious. I'm certain she acquired the mischievous trait from her own father whom she will always be remembered in the family lore as the one who shot him while deer hunting. Melanie and my mom came to visit me years ago in Missoula and I insisted we get in the car and drive to Spokane to do some shopping. As we passed Lake Coeur d'Alene I remarked that I didn't realize it was so big. My mom said, "Well you know it is an inlet from the ocean. Melanie and I looked at each other laughing and said, "Mom, we don't think Idaho has ever been on the coast." She had a not so hidden crush on Howie Long. And even though I think she was a bit insecure she had PRESENCE. She had a way of standing with her weight on one foot and with the other just have her heel touching the ground and give this look from under her brow that was just absolutely classy.

Her name is beautiful. The letters and their loops form an incredible rhythm and when I have writer's block or designer's block I trace them... S A U N D R A. Saundra Stephens Toole.

My mother was many things to many people. When we almost lost her a few years ago due to the blood clots I was so consumed in my own grief and sorrow, and then I looked around the room and saw that she was also Doug's wife, and Edison's daughter, and an aunt, a grandma, a friend - we are surrounded my so many who her life impacted and with whom we share this incredible pain at losing her. She had an uncanny ability to form individual relationships with all that she met. Private sanctuaries where even I, her own daughter, could not enter.

My mother's greatest trait however was not in being my mother, but by being so accepting of people. She loved her son's in law, her nephews and nieces, her dad, her grandchildren. Her friends. She belonged to so many worlds. She lived hard.

I have struggled over the past few days asking the question "why"? This is not fair, we got jipped! After all the countless people my mom and dad have helped it is just cruel irony that she was taken from us due to a tragic accident. I was comforted remembering conversations with my sons that my mom was particularly fond of recalling. Land had a classmate, a young girl in his first and second grade class who had experienced trauma and had become mute. When my mom asked Land why she didn't talk he replied in that innocent 6 year old voice, "That's the mystery grandma", I suppose now that is the only answer - it's the mystery and the mystery will sustain us.

When Chase was three we had a conversation that I have written down and shared with my mother. It was near Easter and after speaking about the Easter Story he asked, "Mom, do Chase's die?" I said, "You probably don't have to worry about it until you are old." He asked again, "Mom, are you old?" I replied, "a little, but I mean old like a grandma." His profound reply was, "But grandma can't die, because she can't lift that cross up all by herself". And I suppose we can take comfort in that - we don't have to carry this cross ourselves.

And to all of you, but to my dad and my sisters especially I want to conclude with the words to a song:

I love you Mom. (and I blew her a kiss) 


Tamara Jacobs said...

Your tribute to Grandma was so beautiful. I love the way you write. I hope that you're doing okay and I can't wait to see you. We should all get together really soon. I love your family. love, tam

Leslie-Oh said...

I was shocked in that way that you realize how much connection you have to someone because of how deeply their heartache moves you. What irony to have this occur just when you've overcome and accomplished so much. We were planning a trip down to hang out and catch up, so let me know when you're up to that. I've started a blog because of you, just as I've added so many other good things to my life because of you.

Your tribute was stunning.

Love you--


Nat said...

I thought your tribute to Grandma was so awesome. You really have a way with words. Grandma probably loved it! How is your family doing?