My mom’s name was Ruthanne O’Keefe – Ruck to her friends. That’s what my dad always called her. That what our neighbors and her best friends the Owens’ called her when I was growing up.
It was one of those early childhood things. Her sister Joan, 7 years her junior, called her that as a toddler. It stuck. It was a rather odd nickname. Whenever she was introduced by that name, eyebrows went up. She rarely explained the odd handle. She was just Ruck.
When my cousins were little they called her AuntRuck – all one word. It sounded like ant-truck.
I miss that old Ruck. Of course I never called her Ruck. It was always Mom. I miss my mom.
She was cremated when she died. She never wanted a funeral or a service. She never wanted to be viewed or prayed over. She did not want an urn. She did not want an obituary. When it was time for her to go, she knew it. She did not fight the absolutely inevitable. “I’m 85,” she said to the Hospice care worker. “What, do I need to be 86?” The hospice worker cried.
I cried too. I cried for a long time. She may have thought of that as wasted energy. But I cried. Couldn’t help it. I still cry sometimes. But those tears are not the same somehow. Those same tears that once burned at my mom’s loss have become healing. When I cry now I know that they will disappear. They’ll sting my eyes and then leave me with memories of her.
Even though she did not want any kind of memorial service, about a year ago, my brother Dan and sisters Ruthie and Anne met at her house up in Brevard, NC, at her beloved tree house in the mountains. We stayed at a nearby motel while we took care of her final business. We hung out on her dock and gazed out at the lovely little mountain lake she loved so well. We toasted that remarkable, compassionate, kind, artistic, fiery woman. And we spread her ashes in that lake, in view of her porch where she fed rambunctious raccoons and shy birds and the silly squirrels that chewed mercilessly on her railing.
Those were some of her best years, and certainly mine as well with her just a few hours away. I was the lucky one among my sibs. For we are spread as far north and south and from sea-to-shining-sea as we can be. For her last 7 or 8 years we were truly best friends. How lucky is that?
There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think of her. I still cry sometimes. And it is good.
Last spring Heidi had a great idea. We planted a little redbud on the hill behind our home in the woods. I dug a big hole and busted up that nasty clay soil. I cut in mulch and mushroom compost. We spread a handful of my mom’s ashes in there too. It is a modest little tree. But it will grow. When it went dormant last fall, I was little worried about it. There are little trees that don’t come back for whatever reason. And it’s not like that tree has any of my mom’s spirit in it. I am not superstitious.
But some of the carbon from her body has to be nourishing it. Right? If that tree didn’t come
back, it wouldn't be like I would think of her any less, right? It’s silly, I know, but I have been watching that tree a lot lately since everything else has been budding and opening up and pouring out pollen like it’s going out of style. And I have been anticipating the day when I would see those new little buds opening into those pretty little pink flowers.