Feeling the sun-warmed cement on my bare feet, I stand on the front steps of my father's home. I watch as my husband drives the car carrying our children out of the drive and into the flow of cars. The longing to be going with them swells in my breast as they head to our home. But there are tasks at hand to be done. Part of me welcomes a time to be alone with my thoughts and churning emotions.

The warm July day flirts with my desire to lie in the sun beside the sparkling water of the backyard pool. My sense of responsibility wins out. I enter the house that I have had as a safe haven for all of my thirty eight years. There have been tears and sorrows here but also great joy.

The rooms that, just a few moments ago had echoed with the voices of my family are quiet and still. My thoughts slide back to the time when the voices and activity were of my childhood. Letting my mind wander the years, I recall my mother and the many months, hours, weeks and years she had stood within these very same walls, with the same stillness and silence. For her, it was a silence that eventually smothered her with loneliness.

With my mother on my mind and looking through eyes of myself as a mother, I walk through the comfortable rooms, looking at the aftermath of a busy family weekend. There is vacuuming and dusting to be done, dishes to wash, bathrooms to clean, and the refrigerator to wipe out and sort, so that not too many fur coatings of mould will be produced before my return. How many, many times had Mom done this very same thing on mornings after we had gathered around the pool, Christmas tree, or dining room table in noisy camaraderie.

Mom had thoroughly taught me good organization skills and, following her pattern, I tackle the bedrooms, stripping beds, remaking each one with "correctly" folded corners. Each chore is like a well rehearsed dance routine that my hands complete as my thoughts recreate my mother in my mind. I can hear her voice as she once said to me so long ago: "The piano is not properly dusted if you miss the legs" or "swishing the dust from the stairs over the edges and onto the phone and table below is not fair to your sister who has that job to do."

Finally order is regained. As the morning slides into afternoon I decide to not stop for lunch.

My thoughts go forward to the task yet to be done. I must call my sister to report the state of the groceries that I will be leaving. She will stay here when she takes over the daily hospital visits to Dad who is dying from prostrate cancer. Then I’ll take a shower and dress, spend a few hours at the hospital, drive home to relieve my sitter, start the mountains of laundry I have packed into my car and prepare the dinner for my own family. It would be so much easier if Dad had a full sized washer and dryer but it is too late for that now.

Dad's sudden illness has struck us all hard. We thought he was getting over Mom's death. He had started to travel, resumed friendships, created new ones, and was very much involved in all of our lives. We had continued to use his home for family gatherings and celebrations, creating pot-luck feasts and fun. Now, we use it as a base from which to visit him and plan his care. We agreed to keep it as Mom had done, clean, tidy and welcoming. There is comfort and security in this for all of us.

My car is loaded with laundry and forgotten toys. I walk again through the now orderly house, checking every detail. As if called by some silent beckoning, I am seductively drawn to the back yard. In the midst of all the demands on my time and energy, I slide easily down onto a chaise lounge on the back porch. I indulged myself by lifting my legs and stretching into a comfortable position telling myself it is just for a moment. I let my mind wander open to the moment. The warmth of the sun, coupled with my tiredness, lulls me into a state of relaxation. My thoughts again returned to Mom. She would have sat in the warm July sun like this, perhaps with a book. Would she have found this solitude difficult? She wouldn't have so many other pulls to make the quiet moments like this a special capsule of peace. She wouldn't have the loved ones clamouring for attention. Would she have been so efficient in her cleaning, or would she have stretched the tasks out, to give meaning to her week.

My heart fills with sadness for my mother. Tears slide slowly down my face. I long to tell her I finally understand some of her behaviour, her repeated phone calls when I was so busy with my family, her complaints, demand, tears and her drinking.

Mindlessly, I watched a bright orange and black Monarch butterfly flit from flower to flower in the garden that is a somewhat overgrown version of the one she originally planted, loved and tended. I yearn to express my long-suppressed feelings of love and understanding that I feel at this moment for my mother.

“Oh Mom! How I wish I could tell you how much I love you. I want so much to tell you I understand. You died too young!”

My mind forms a plea to the flitting butterfly.

“Please fly to the porch and sit for a moment with me as a manifestation of my mother's presence.”

I know she is capable of requesting help from the butterfly to show me that she is with me. I believe. Within seconds, the butterfly changes its course and turns from the flowers and comes to rest on the porch railing. My entire being is filled with love and joy. The essence of my mother is potently present.

That feeling of peace stayed with me through the very difficult time that followed, as my father died and my life took on new directions. I have a deep belief that, when we outgrow our need for our bodies, we transform and exist in a different form. We are not gone; we are changed.

Author's Bio: 

Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed., is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Burlington Ontario Canada. She is the author of books on personal growth through travel. Questing Marilyn: In Search of My Holy Grail takes the reader through sacred and historic sites in England and Ireland and involves the search for the authentic adult Self. It explores: “Who can I be when I am free to be my Self?” Questing France: Deepening the Search for My Holy Grail is the process of holding onto the Self when in a marriage relationship. It explores flirtations, infidelity, qualities of a functional marriage as well as parenting children through marital conflict. Questing France explores the questions: “Can I be me when I am with you?” and "Why do people stay in a marriage after an affair?" Quest Publishing Canada