I started this article as a Mother’s Day present for my mom. I wanted to thank her for making me practice my violin as a kid. She had three young children who all played string instruments. We had two bedrooms and a converted den for the five of us in our faculty apartment. She sent each child to a separate room with an egg timer and instructions to practice for 30 minutes. (The duration increased as we aged, but was never draconian.)
Mom made practicing as natural as eating a healthy breakfast, playing outside, or reading a book. It was simply something you did each day. No discussion. No debate. No drama. As such, I simply accepted it as a part of my routine. There was no focus on winning a competition or award. No concern about looking good on a college application. No talk of working toward a profession in music. Practice was integrated into my daily activities. No different than brushing my teeth or combing my hair.
As I got older and had a child of my own, I was amazed at how my mother seemed to have figured out so many things about maintaining a family at such a young age. She was 19 when she married my father, and by the time she was 24, she’d given birth to her three children. She was the core of our family. The one who got us ready for school, cooked, cleaned, organized schedules, cared for us when we were ill, made sure we practiced. In short, everything.
I mentioned this article was designed to be a Mother’s Day present. But in the twisted way the universe has of reminding us how little control we have over life, my 86-year-old mother went into the hospital on Mother’s Day. She passed away 14 days later… peacefully, with my father, her husband of nearly 67 years, at her side.
I had many incredible moments with Mom just before her death. She talked about ice skating as a girl, a talent she passed along to my adult son. She told the nurse I had been writing about music, something of which she seemed incredibly proud. At one point, she looked me in the eye and gently questioned, “You play the violin?” To which I replied, “Yes, Mom, and I practice every day.” And, when I looked into her piercing blue eyes the last time I saw her alive and told her I loved her, I got to hear her say, “I love you, too.”
I am one of the lucky ones. I had my mother for over 61 years. She was at every important event in my life and witnessed my greatest joys and heartbreaks. But I am selfish. I still want more. And I don’t want just one more day with her. I want a thousand more. And when those thousand are done, I’ll want a thousand more.
There is, alas, a natural order to life and death that I have come to accept in these weeks since her passing. While it’s only too clear to me that most of what happens in life is outside my control, there is great comfort in going into my den (sans egg timer), opening my violin case, and seeing the beautiful red satin cover my mother made for me when I was a little girl. She sewed a “D” on the coverlet in the loving manner she did all things.
My violin has become a source of strength for me in recent years, and even more so in recent weeks. I thank my mother for making me practice all those many decades ago. Her vigilance allowed me to become proficient enough to truly enjoy playing, which affords a wonderful emotional release. The opportunity to collaborate with other musicians is a blessing, in every sense of the word.
My quartet rehearsals are a vital part of my life and something I hang onto with a ferocity that belies my technical competence. Shortly after my mother’s death, my flute quartet was trying to reschedule a rehearsal. The flutist responded that perhaps it was inappropriate to think about rehearsing given my mother’s recent passing. Then she stopped herself short and added, “But, perhaps Mozart is truly a balm for the soul.” I could not agree more. My regular string quartet sent flowers and a note that read, “We hope that getting together to play chamber music might relieve some of your sorrow.”
Oh, and it truly will.
“Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep!”
Elizabeth Akers Allen
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