|(This, a more intimate newsletter than most, touches on a family theme of mothers, daughters and sisters, as does this month's featured novel, Red Lightning.)
Jane. Marta. Edith. Billie. These are the proud women I have called Mother. A birth mother. A stepmother. A mother-in-law. And an Oklahoma mother of five boys, one of whom grew up, grayed up, and became my mid-life husband.
Jane, the woman who birthed and reared me, crossed that invisible veil between life and death ten years ago. Billie hasn't yet crossed the threshold - at almost 90, she writes letters to John nearly every week in beautiful cursive.
My stepmother Marta passed on just last December. John and I carried her ashes to my waiting sister in Hawaii. Together, we swam out beyond the reef and watched the ashes swirl beneath the undulating waves, glimmering like stars in the Milky Way as her uhane mingled with the spirit world.
I've read that the earliest recorded use of the prefix step-, in the form steop-, is from an 8th-century glossary of Latin-Old English words meaning "orphan." I felt that way when my mother died - orphaned, like a small, lost orbiting meteorite. When I reached out blindly in my grief, there was my stepmother Marta, and my mother-in-law Edie.
And now? A few days ago, Edie passed from this world. My sister wrote me that just a few days earlier she bought two sagegreen Adirondack chairs for each deck of the little bungalow where she lives in Hawaii. "They are for the new Uhane coming," she wrote me. "I hadn't felt who it was yet, but Edie will feel right at home."
I can picture Edie's spirit visiting the Aloha land of sweet-scented flowers soon, floating on the scent of jasmine and lilies. What will we do, I wonder, when all the elders are gone? When we ourselves must become the Sun around which others orbit?
I think of Edie, how I could still feel the strength in her frail hand even as it slipped from my grasp. Will my hand hold that same strength of character? My softly closing eyes that same strength of will? She was a ranch woman - a force to be reckoned with.
Tomorrow, the earth will hold her. We'll bow our heads paying homage to a woman, and an era. I have no doubt that beckoning souls will be reaching down from above, even as grief and gratitude carry the rest of us forward, even as my sister sits on the deck waiting to welcome the next wandering soul.