We both undressed ourselves in silence. The rushing echo of water filled the room as the tub became full. Now completely nude, I glanced down at my navel ring wondering about her disapproval. I tested the water with my foot and slowly eased my aching body down into the tub. It was a bit awkward at first. We had been through this routine so many times before in another time and place however this time our roles were different. My 72-year-old mama was down to her cotton briefs and had a serious and determined look on her face. She tested the water and was ready to get down to business. With her aged yet lovely hands she soaked small towels in the water laying them across my shoulders and belly while she ignored the navel ring. Her long fingers wrung out the towels laying them on me one after another letting the steam melt into my weary pores. My head hurt.
One of my Hopi friends told me once that it was their belief that when one of their people died that they became a cloud. They could then look up at the clouds and remember them and know that their loved ones were still with them, watching over. All of their past relations looking over. . .My daughter, Malea, had died only a few days earlier and the cocoon of her remains were still zipped in a specialized bag, in a climate controlled drawer somewhere. None of it handled according to my beliefs and all of it completely out of my control. Everything changed in a moment for only days before, my daughter’s father had taken her to a construction job site and did not see her while driving a “Bobcat” tractor. She was five. Yet, no time, no seasonal change for her transmutation to shift into a cloud or into any cycle of weather. . .
Rain, rain, pour over me
Rinse this pain through me
Clouds of lives passed before
See Me, Hear me more
Hold Me in that Soft Place
Receive Her when she comes
Please receive Her when she comes
Rain, rain, pour over me
Rinse this pain though me
Too soon, too raw, too numb. The steaming warmth soaked into my skin while mama tested the water to fill our largest stainless steel bowl. This bowl was the same one we used to bathe Malea’s baby dolls in. In fact, it was so big that at five years old she stripped off her clothes and dunked into the bath bowl herself.
Mama made sure the temperature was a perfect, few degrees more than my own. She filled the bowl and poured it slowly over my head, filled the bowl and poured it through my hair, filled the bowl and poured it down my back repeating this in Zen waves. I found myself lulled by the rush of water, mixed in with my tears and with her love. Smooth soap bubbles glided down my shoulders, over my breasts and nipples, running a rivulet through my navel between my legs.
Her breath formed a rhythm as she worked, squeezing the soap from the sea sponge over my back rubbing a circular motion across my arms, my hands, my belly and legs.
In silence mama worked, the cadence of her breath, an ocean wave, in and out, back-and-forth turning this into a sacred ritual of our own to nourish and cleanse her daughters wounded spirit.
“The river she is flowing, going and growing, the river she is flowing, down to the sea.
Mother carry me, a child I will always be. . .Mother carry me down to the sea.”
My eyes widened reverting back to myself as a child as I watched my mother so lovingly caring for her hurting little girl longing for her little girl. The hot water poured from the faucet as I watched it cascade over my feet warming the water. “Will you do my piggies?” I asked. My unusual question broke her from her reverie and it seemed as though tears welled in her eyes because she could not tell if I was playing or was beginning to lose my mind.
She caught my eyes as she soaked up a washcloth and started with my big toe, “This little piggy went to market,” and the next digit, “and, this little piggy stayed home. And, this little piggy had roast beef. And, this little piggy had none.” And, the smallest toe, feeling left out I guess, squealed, “And, this little piggy cried WEE, WEE, WEE!!!! All the way home.” My mother’s voice was mixing her laughter and her tears. I explained that we changed the words when I washed my little one’s toes. No one got left out. We thought it was weird that a pig would eat roast beef so the kids would choose what dinner they wanted from the market and the littlest toe always squealed and cried all the way home, back into the bath water to rinse off.
My mama rinsed me all the way from her heart circling back home to mine. She soothed me with delicious scents and the perfect warmth washed over my aching body. Her own tears splashed in the water that flowed over my head, mixing with my tears and the liquids swirled into a healing pool of alchemy for the deep cleanse a “letting go” of many generations and cycles of pain.
I didn’t want this to end, this safe space held by my mother. My fingers inevitably started to become shriveled as the bath turned tepid. I watched the vortex of water twisting down and out of the tub, as well as my life as I had known it, going down the drain. All of my concepts of family shattered, the correct order of things rearranged and my role twisted into a big round question mark.
Coping day to day turned into weeks, months and, now, years. It has been almost exactly the same amount of time that she has been gone that she was alive. 5 ½ years. My son is now 15 ½ and it feels as though his life has slipped before my eyes. The first third of his life he had me dedicated to him as “my first, my one and only”. The second third of his life he had to share me with his little sister while I raised our baby girl. After she died, he said, “What a waste.” I could not tell if he meant for her loss or for his loss of my attention, or both. The last third of his life has been a blur, he learned that Santa isn’t who he thought, holidays were no longer a celebration but days to get through and that his mother is not the same anymore. A dark cloud could roll in quickly and stay longer than a sunny day because watching me grieve and deciphering his own has been more inclement weather than not. Now his testosterone storms swell and sway with his emotions. It is hard enough to be 15 without having lost his sister when he was only 10.
After more than three years after the tragedy we were both been diagnosed and sought treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We had gotten used to our nerves shaking from the inside out, waiting for the other shoe to drop and next horrible thing to happen. In this year of five equals five it has become time to stop the internal grief clock and turn our experience inside out in order to stop simply surviving and start thriving. We know the difference between a good day and a bad day, meanness and kindness, living and dying . . .and, now, we recognize that she died but we are still living, breathing, hearts beating, remembering, crying, laughing and sighing.
We see fluffy cumulus and perfect New Mexico blue skies and wonder. We see cloud pictures floating over our heads, telling their stories and know that one or more of those clouds are ours, watching over and eventually, changing, and blessing us with the rain.