On this Mother's Day, they sit dressed in various shades of black and white - sisters from different corners of this southeastern state with the uncanny ability to show up in complimentary outfits. They are all mothers, but they are not here together to celebrate this day set aside to honor that distinction. Instead, they rally around the daughterless mother who moments ago sat in the front row and watched her daughter transition from present to past tense.
Karen was a tall woman. She dwarfed her mother and her mother's sisters - all slight in body but incredibly strong in spirit. That much is clear as they hold hands and share stories and swap tissues. Karen, too, shared in this strength. The gray-blue urn at the center of the room is too small to contain her. Her brother jokes, "She hated to be the center of attention." Yet there she sits. She does not linger on the perimeter of the room as she so often did at family Christmas gatherings. But even then I could always find her - a gentle presence next to my mother, her friend and family confidant, sharing their own knowing smiles like secret sisters.
The Friday before Karen died I stood by my mother and held her hand, the cash box, and a blinking LED balloon at Relay for Life. As the balloon slipped from my fingers and soared alone into the night sky, I thought of Karen and the kidney cancer that had invaded her body overnight. On Sunday, I donned my purple t-shirt to brag about the money we had raised -$6000 in all. That night my mother called. "Karen's slipped away." Like that balloon right out of my fingers, floating up to the heavens out of sight.
So on this Mother's Day, I dressed in black crepe and sat between my mother and hers to celebrate a mother of four. I held each of her children because she couldn't today. I winked at her granddaughter, and I watched the sisterhood that is larger than life mark this day of celebration with another tragedy. I wouldn't have chosen this way or this day, but I'm grateful for the time we shared.