I don’t think there have been more than 10 minutes in the last few days without someone calling my name–“Mom, could you?” “Someone is at the door.” “Phone’s for you!” It’s been a week of errands and chores; catching up on put-off tasks and preparing for the summer ahead.
Now, night has fallen and I am stealing time from sleep to iron the seams of my skirts for Pioneer Trek next week. I am using scraps and pieces from my mother’s fabric stash just as she did 37 years ago to make my first pioneer dress and apron (I wrote about in in Segullah Literary Journal). As Utahns, and Mormons, dressing in long skirts and bonnets is part of our cultural heritage. And walking in a parade or in an an extended four-day trek as we are doing next week is part of paying homage to the sacrifices they made to settle this valley and establish the church.
But for one not born into the church this has always been a bit of a bittersweet tradition. Nearly everyone in Utah can trace their ancestry to the original crossing-the-plains pioneers and if not, they usually marry into an old Mormon family. In my ward growing up we were the only convert family and we are now one of only two families in our area without the names of Bennion, Tanner, Young and Clayton on our family tree (my parents converted when I was a little girl; my mother-in-law Maria joined the church as a 25 year old nurse and Fritz, my father-in-law, was the son of a newly-minted Berlin Mormon).
Rarely is there a Sunday where church members don’t refer to their pioneer heritage– and rightly so, the Mormon Pioneers are incredible examples of faith– but as a child I always felt a little bit less than.
Traditionally, youth and adults take the name of an original pioneer when they embark on Trek. The idea is that you can learn about that pioneer and feel them with you as you walk; most people choose the name of an ancestor. You can imagine my emotions when they announced that this time we could choose the name of any forebear. There was no question, I am walking in the name of
Will I feel her presence? I hope so. I have been collecting relics to take with me– her sun hat, her water bottle, a walking stick, fabric from her unmade quilts fashioned into simple skirts.
I am a sloppy seamstress, my seams and corners have never been precise like my mother’s and I have used my limited skills only for Halloween costumes and simple repairs. But now, I am taking great pride in ironing and stitching and watching the dust fly in the light.
Perhaps I should be grateful for the busyness of this week, because as the anniversary of my mother’s death approaches Monday, every moment that I pause to think nearly engulfs me with grief. I am hurting more, much more, than even the day she died. I have referred to a secret sorrow and it is weighing heavily on my soul. Soon, it will be known, and things will be much worse before they get better. I worry, because I’ve been hurt so deeply, if I will ever recover. People constantly tell me how strong I am, but I am not. Or they tell me how strong I will be after I’ve gone through this and I don’t think I can. The pain is blinding, excruciating and although I am still able to enjoy my husband, my children, my work and responsibilities, I am afraid I will slowly erode into a bitter old woman.
I may not be a pioneer, but I have icy plains and rocky passes to cross.
But one phrase rings in my ears– my mother’s words from one year ago– “We have so much happiness ahead of us in the eternities. You have no idea how much happiness we have ahead of us.”
For this I pray.