where mothers go

December 13th, 2019

A few months ago I called our tree guy Danny to come over and dispose of the dead. It used to be that I could go years and years without even thinking of death or disposal, but nowadays we see all around us the fallout of our bald-faced climate catastrophe. This time it was a couple of towering English yews, evergreen columns that were planted a hundred years ago along the formal pathways to the garden. An arborist once told me that English yews weren’t even supposed to grow here, but ours were a scrappy bunch, soldiering through a century of summers until the last five months of sunlight just incinerated them. Poof! Gone. Danny made quick work of the old bones, hauled them to the curb and pulverized them, and that’s when I saw what had been going on out of sight all the while.

It must have been just after I moved here in 1997 that my mom sent me a housewarming gift — a potted plant. In the 1990s, flower arrangements hadn’t yet become posh or exotic. They were pretty standard-issue, and to a thrifty consumer like my mom (and me), a waste of good money. In those days there was an industry devoted to houseplants, or rather, keeping houseplants alive, with books and fertilizers and misters and music and such, until we all found out we could kill a heck of a lot of houseplants either way and swung back to sending flowers, only a lot fancier, with pansies and ranunculus and artisanal grasses.

Anyway, my mom sent me a houseplant that was actually two little plants fitted into a blue ceramic pot, and it grew indoors by a sunny window for a while before it turned mildewed and yellow and I put it outside. I didn’t forget about it, not ever, but I didn’t look at it or fuss with it or even care about it except if I should catch a glance of it in the shade, under the yews, in the damp by a leaky spigot, I would think about Mom, gone now since 2001.

Because, you see, one way or the other you’re going to think about your Mom or Dad, and come to know in that bracing way that hits you after they die that life goes on and so you do too, and it doesn’t in any way diminish who they were or weren’t. You get over, is what I’m saying, and go on about your life.

And so Danny lifts up the bower of dead yew by the spigot, and says lookee here at the pittosporum that has busted through its blue ceramic pot into three branches as thick as your wrist, ranging 18 total feet in length, nursed by the fertile rot and drip drip drip of your unconcern, left on its own to go on and on and never die and never leave. Your mother, that is. Her life is yours.

Photo by Alex Wing on Unsplash



  1. Oh Maezen. I am 6 days away from the 13th year of my mother passing. She has never left me either. I love you.

    Comment by marcea — December 13, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

  2. What a beautiful thing to say ♡

    Comment by Bonnie Rae Nygren — December 13, 2019 @ 5:46 pm

  3. That was a beautiful story. I think as I grow older I can see that our loved ones remain in our hearts and will always be there. My daughter from when she was tiny has always seemed wise and when she was about 2 was talking to my mother and said “Nan when you grow young again” and continued on. She believed that when you were very old you became young again and that was the cycle. She has remained wise and I have told her that when she was a tiny baby, only weeks old she used to look at me with old eyes and I said I think you are an old soul and have been here before. I don’t really know how to explain it. She has gone on to do overseas Aid through the government and still looks at me with old eyes.
    I enjoy your messages very much.
    Kind wishes

    Comment by Wendy Gregory — December 13, 2019 @ 8:27 pm

  4. Thank you Wendy. My daughter was about 3 she told me that before I was her mommy she had another mommy and when that mommy died she cried and cried and then I was her mommy. There is such comfort in the inexplicable.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 14, 2019 @ 6:43 am

  5. As usual, with perfect timing. I sat at the computer to order an Amaryllis in a pot for my Mom for Christmas and read this latest missive. This flower is a pale substitution for being there in person, but a long bloomer that will hopefully brighten the coming gray days of winter. Wishing you and yours the best during the season!

    Comment by Jeremy Kindall — December 14, 2019 @ 5:43 am

  6. The timing of this post was perfect.

    Comment by Linda Rice — December 14, 2019 @ 9:45 am

  7. I’ve always loved your writing on being a mother. Then, three weeks ago my own mom died after a brief and sudden/unexpected illness. This weekend I’m flailing about, feeling untethered and missing my wonderful mom so much. Which is to say…the timing of this lovely writing is perfect. Thank you.

    Comment by Julie Collins — December 14, 2019 @ 5:41 pm

  8. Dear Julie, at this very moment your wonderful mother is with you. Love, Maezen.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 14, 2019 @ 5:42 pm

  9. Mine, both, are in the ground, recently, sadly joined, in the same plot, by my sister whose ending was abrupt and angering! Nearby are maternal grandparents and many of their relatives, with last names difficult to spell, much less pronounce. Pictures of my mom and dad are icons on my dresser. Mom is smiling as she was said to have been at the moment of her departure. Dad is more severe looking. I like to look at obituaries, observing the the birth dates, too close to mine. I say goodbye, not God bless you. People usually look pretty good in these “life tribute” photos. Their light has gone out. Wishing their light continues, I simply say goodby!

    Comment by Larry Misiak — December 20, 2019 @ 7:57 am

  10. I think of it as some puzzle that’s not mine to solve. My mom and dad left young, and as life continued and sadness dimmed, I folded them within me. Wrapped up in love and taking up just the right amount of room. And I suppose I folded in too, all those that they folded in before me. Like some cosmic chain. An so it comes. And goes.

    Comment by Rain — January 2, 2020 @ 6:43 am

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