“You will see light in the darkness. You will make some sense of this.
And when you’ve made your secret journey. You will find this love you miss.”
― Gordon Matthew Sumner (Sting)
In Part Twenty-One, I recounted the first conversation I ever had with my mother nearly 17 years after she passed away. I wept then, I wept writing about it, and I wept reading what I had written. I mourned the loss of a mother I will never know and who never knew me. What I wouldn’t give to have had just one opportunity to be with her physically. Little did I know, I would soon receive my very own Christmas miracle.
Following my visit to Pickering Beach I drove to Joe’s house about twenty minutes away to meet his family. The visit was short; just enough time to introduce ourselves to one another and ask a few top-of-mind questions. That was on November 10, 2020. A few weeks later, two days after Christmas, Joe and Derek were getting their families together for a small belated and downsized Christmas gathering and I was also invited. This day, December 27, marked 17 years since our mother’s death.
I arrived later than planned (it’s a hallmark of mine) and the Philadelphia Eagles football game was deep into the second quarter. The season was dangling by a thread and was only a couple hours away from ending. The food arrived almost an hour before I did but there was plenty of leftover wings and pizza to satisfy a day’s long appetite. We stood in a circle around an extended counter between the kitchen and dining room. As I took care of a conspicuous hunger, we shared stories about this and that. I recounted a bit about my journey to this point thus far. I asked a few questions learning about everyone’s interests. There are many more things I look forward to learning and I will in time.
Not much gift exchanging was anticipated. I gave the girls each something art or craft oriented that I felt was appropriate for their ages and I expected nothing in return. I did, however, receive something in return that numbs me still as I write this.
Once things were cleaned off and the remaining leftovers were put away, all that remained on the counter were two envelopes and a box 2” by 4” by 6” wrapped in holiday paper. They were slowly pushed in front of me and Derek said, “Here Matt, we got you a little something.” I opened the cards first. Each card graciously had everyone’s name written instead of Love, The Nadels, or Love, The Rodgers. I struggled a bit at first with keeping the right names with the right faces and I now had a cheat sheet. I had already met Joe’s family but this was my first time meeting Derek’s wife and daughter. Meeting them reshuffled the names a little bit in my head. Sometime later Joe walked by as I was rereading the cards. “I am just studying for the name quiz.”, I said. We laughed and shared our sentiments on the importance of name recollection. It can be difficult sometimes. Now if they had only pasted thumbnail size headshots of themselves in the cards…
Next was the gift. Trying to be cute, I lifted it to my ear and gently shook it as people sometimes do trying to guess what is inside. No one laughed. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Derek’s eyes pop out of his head. I began to peel back the taped ends to expose a simple dark box with no markings whatsoever. Two short additional pieces of scotch tape adhered the lid to the base and with a quick glide of my thumbnail, the lid was free. I removed the lid to expose something wrapped in white tissue paper. I lifted it from the box and removed the paper to see a small clear glass jar with a metal clasp lid. Inside was an off-white course powder and in a fraction of second I realized in the palm of my hand rested my mother’s ashes – our mother’s ashes.
“Oh my God!” I gasped at the volume of a whisper. I gently placed the jar back on the tissue paper which laid in the box and brought my hand to my face covering my mouth to prevent an outburst. I felt tears on my cheeks and a sniffle in my nose. In that moment, all the emotions of Pickering Beach came flooding back. In front of, who until very recently were strangers, I cried. They cried. We cried together. I turned to pull both Joe and Derek towards me, and we embraced as I continued to weep.
Not all our mother’s ashes were scattered along Pickering Beach. Joe and Derek had kept a fair amount and had split it between them. After the three of us first met in October, Joe and Derek decided to redistribute the remaining ashes into three portions. After emotions simmered, Joe and Derek each raised up their jars and Derek said, “Now she is with all of us.”
Eventually the evening would draw to an end, and with it the Eagle’s hopes for post-season play. After our goodbyes, I departed for my 50-minute commute to where I would be spending the next couple days. I arrived at Joe’s alone, but I was not leaving alone. I now had a companion with me in the front seat. My mother road shotgun. On Pickering Beach, I had much to say but not this night. On this cold late December night, I drove mostly in silence to a place my mother and I have both enjoyed more than anywhere in the world, the solitude of the beach. Instead of speaking, I reflected deeply on what I just experienced. Two grown men and their beautiful families, whom up to three months earlier knew of nothing of my existence, were so overwhelmingly accepting of me that they felt it appropriate that I receive our mother’s ashes. For as long as I live, I will never again receive any gift as powerful as this.
I look forward to seeing you in Part Twenty-Three.
(Thank you Diana Rodgers for taking these pictures.)