Sunday, October 23, 2011

You Can Never Replace...

Like so many others, my mother shaped my reading. She didn’t just teach me to read, she taught me so many other things…

She taught me to take care of books. No folding corners to mark a place. No creasing the spines of paperbacks. No laying a hardcover open on the table.

She taught me to love books. She placed into my hands not just my first books, but some of my favorite books.

She taught me that no matter what I was interested in, there was a book about it out there.

She taught me the sheer joy of walking into a bookstore or a library and being assaulted by the sight and smell of so many books.

She taught me that sharing one’s delight in a book could be just as enjoyable as reading it by oneself. Actually she may have wished she hadn’t done that since I would frequently call her to read funny bits out of books -- I can still hear her saying, “Well, I won’t need to read it now,” and my response, “Oh, no, there is so much more.”

My mother died August 25.

It was as horrible as it was unexpected.

Every Saturday night we would eat at my parents’ house, and we would sit on the couch and chat. In recent years I would on occasion say, “You better just plan on living to be 100 because I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Sadly now I know.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of May, and after a masectomy, she began her first round of chemotherapy on July 29. On August 6 she was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal cramps -- an infection had entered her intestine and because of the chemo, her body had no white blood cells to fight it. The next day she had a heart attack and her body began to go into septic shock and her organ systems failed. She slipped away from us, leaving a gaping hole where she once was.

The first day in the hospital, my dad asked me to go to the house to take care of the dogs. The coffee table was a repository of my mom’s life. She rarely cleaned it off, and we would tease her about the accumulation of things on it. That day, sitting there was Mom’s new copy of Gone with the Wind. She had bought it just a couple of weeks before when we went to the Atlanta History Center to see an exhibit on Margaret Mitchell and the original manuscript of the novel.

Of course I already had several copies of GWTW -- one of my favorite books of all-time -- but I found myself picking this copy up and beginning to read it.

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…”

I hadn’t read it since high school.

I only read a little bit of it while my mom was in the hospital. Instead, I sat by her bedside day after day and talked to her. She was completely sedated, and I have no idea if she could even hear me while I prattled on about On the Banks of Plum Creek.

When she died, I returned to GWTW. I made that conscious decision because if Scarlett could get through her mother’s death maybe, just maybe, I could get through my mother’s. It was comfort reading plain and simple and while I read my mother’s copy, I wished I had Scarlett’s mourning to wear. Black seemed the only appropriate color at the time.

There is a book called The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen where one of the characters always finds books when she most needs them. Those books are actual characters with personalities. At the time, I found it a delightful idea -- after all, who hasn’t felt like certain books just appear when you most need them?

Never have I believed that more than in the weeks since my mother’s death.

I can almost picture the books, wherever books may reside waiting to be called forth, jostling for position.

“It’s my turn!”

“No, it’s mine!”

Because, believe it or not, every single book I have read since August 25 has had a dead parent in it.

I didn’t go looking for them.

It’s as if they have found me.

And they, knowing my personality, obviously, didn’t let on they are about a parent dying to begin with. It’s October, and I have always believed in theming my books to the season. So, yes, all the books have been masquerading as supernatural stories.

There was The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch.

Hoodoo, haints, old Savannah society. Oh, and the main character’s mother has died precipitating the move to Savannah.

There was Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon.

Girl begins attending strange supernatural school in Maine. Oh, and her parents have died under mysterious circumstances.

And then there was The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore.
Girl moves to Alabama to live in crumbling Southern mansion and begins seeing ghosts. Why is she in Alabama? Yep, you guessed it -- her dad has died. Let’s face it -- nobody does death and grieving like the South -- except maybe the Irish or the Russians, but that’s a post for another time. :)

So, I thought I might escape the supernatural for a little bit and picked up Howards End by E.M. Forster. Can you guess?

Yes, there is a mother dying in it, too, with the quote, “You can never replace a mother.”

Thank you, my dear books, for reminding me I am not alone in my grief.


  1. Jackie....I'm reading this with tears in my eyes! I love your blog and you! Keep writing!

  2. So, so sorry for your loss Jackie. This post brought tears to my eyes; you are such a gifted writer.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your mother, Jackie.

  4. Jackie, I should have known better than to read this. I am crying. My Mother is 92 and I have had her around a long time but I dread the day she is gone. She is probably my best friend, has taught me many things and is always there when I need to talk to someone, she listens and never judges but somehow quietly lets me know if I should look at things a different way maybe. I am so sorry for the loss of your Mother. I agree with the above post. YOU SHOULD WRITE MORE. You have a way with words.

  5. Oh Jackie. I don't know what I would do in your position. I often wonder what I would do if something were to happen to my Mom. I'm so happy that books are comforting you right now. *hugs*

  6. Thank you, everyone! I really didn't mean to make anyone cry. :)

  7. There are no words that convey what emotions are present in the loss of a mother.....but you have captured them in this post Jackie - - lovely tribute to her....take comfort knowing she will always be with the pic of the doll ;)

  8. Such a beautiful memorial to your mom, Jackie. I just love it. I am going to forward your blog to some of my fellow book lovers. I am so sorry for your loss. It is a part of life that we all know is coming, but we always hope will not :-(

  9. Maggie, thank you so much! You know I had to include one of my Scarletts. :) Cmskok, thank you and yes, please forward my blog to whomever will read it. :)

  10. What a touching tribute to your mom. Keep writing Jackie! We are here to read and comfort you in anyway that we can...