From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Snowballs and Lilacs

What would I want engraved on my gravestone for posterity? “Mother.”

Jessica Lange

I set the big, manila envelope on my mother’s table, continuing our ordinary conversation, trying to draw away from the importance of this package and its contents. Through sentences of chit-chat, I worked up the courage from within, until I finally asked her to open it. She did, with a Norwegian sparkle in her blue eyes, expecting a surprise. She grew quiet as she pulled out the picture inside, and saw my own dark brown eyes staring back at her in the face of another woman. The resemblance was startling, and realization swept across her face as she turned to me with joy and wonder and whispered, “Is this your real mother?”

Biting my lip, a trick I had learned from her to hold back the tears, I realized this wonderful woman of substance in front of me had never seemed more precious than at this moment. A flash of all the years she had spent caring for my brothers and me flickered through my mind, as well as the life she led—a life that knew no other way than to put her children and others first on a daily basis. With the knowledge of what was truly “real,” I answered her with borrowed wisdom and responded, “Yes, it’s a picture of my birth mother.”

My search for her had been a need for self-fulfillment, to answer all those nagging questions once wondered. My inquiry had brought feelings of guilt as well. Although my parents had always encouraged me to look, saying that they were just as curious, I didn’t want either one of them to be hurt in the process, or to think that I loved them any less. I secretly marveled at their encouragement, and the confidence that it represented in my steadfast love for them. But after a lifetime of unconditional love and bonding, they had well earned that security.

My mother’s eyes saddened as I told her that my birth mother had died; both my mother and I had often hoped for the day when we would be able to thank her personally. Now that connection would never come.

On Memorial Day, I took my two young sons to the cemetery to place flowers on my birth mother’s grave. We first stopped at the gravesides of my grandparents. My mother had obviously been there, having left her homemade bouquet of snowballs and lilacs—an annual tradition of hers. Year after year, I had found comfort in those flowers, always there, loved ones always remembered. They reminded me of my mother in their simple but God-given beauty. I smiled as I thought of the daffodils she gave me each birthday—one for each year of my life. When I was younger, Mom’s time-honored yellow tradition had been taken for granted. Now at the age of thirty-five, I counted each one, each flower so significant. Nothing would make me happier than to adopt a little girl and continue that tradition with her.

But now was not the time to be a daughter dabbling in daydreams, but to be a mother myself. My sons tugged on my hands, playing tug-of-war with my thoughts. We hurried off to our last stop, my birth mother’s grave. Our pace slowed as we neared the general location, and we solemnly walked through row after row of beautifully decorated tombstones. I knew we were looking for a plain simple stone, without flowers.

I had formed friendships in the last several months with my birth sisters and brother. Although they deeply loved my birth mother, I knew they were not ones to visit cemeteries. Somehow that made it even more important that I come. She definitely deserved flowers, to be remembered, and so very much more. But after half an hour of searching unsuccessfully, my sons were growing impatient, so I decided I would have to come back by myself. We were just about to leave when I spotted it.

Not her name. Not an empty stone. But the same simple bouquet of snowballs and lilacs that I had seen earlier, the ones most assuredly that had been placed there by my mother. Mom had already been there, in the morning’s early hours, to show her gratitude and the respect she felt for the importance of this woman’s life, and the great gift she had given.

As I knelt and closely looked at the dates, I noticed the epitaph, which so appropriately read, “Beloved Mother.” Biting my lip, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I honored this remarkable woman who had given me life, and my own beloved mother, who had given that life such meaning.

Lisa Marie Finley

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