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Begin Again

9 May 2010

I wrote the first part of this piece about my mother on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008 (the day after the first anniversary of her death). I wasn’t ready to post it then, but in honor of Mother’s Day 2010 I thought I’d share it.

Jane E. Lawton

Jane E. Lawton

It’s November 30, 2008.  A year and a day after my mother’s death, I find myself without much to do.

That isn’t really true. I have lots to do: Andy’s mother is coming to stay in two weeks, and the house must be made fit for grown-ups. I have books to read, projects to knit, people to call, writing to finish.

But the big thing I’ve been “supposed to do” in the last year — grieve my mother – is by some measurements gone. Yesterday was the first anniversary of her sudden and (to my mind) premature death.

Many of you have heard this before, but…Mom was 63, a vibrant woman who leapt into anything that caught her interest. She was in the Maryland State Legislature, held a full-time job in government besides that, climbed mountains, held countless parties, made friends at the drop of a hat, wrote poetry, and taught me to embroider and crochet when I was little.

Before you ask — she didn’t really knit. No one’s perfect. [Read about her knitting efforts after the jump!]

Funnily enough, she did try to knit, just before she died.  I had met Danielle recently, and to support Knit-A-Gogo (and have some fun!) Mom and I hosted a knitting party in my new house. Danielle and Karida (of Neighborhood Fiber Co.) taught a beginner group and an intermediate group.  Mom was in the beginner group, and I was in the intermediate.  I wish now that I had spent more time with her that day.  When I think about that, though, I remind myself that we were both busy – she was entertaining her friends, and I was entertaining mine.

Anyway, Mom left with several rows on the needles, a beginner scrap that she kept talking about when I’d call her.  “I’m knitting,” she’d say, “when I have a moment before I go to sleep at night.” I’d say, “Mom, you don’t have to like knitting just because I do,” and she’d say, “the knitting is right next to my bed,” in a reassuring voice. On the day she died, when I went up to her bedroom to find the clothes in which she would be buried, I also looked for the knitting.  Sure enough, there was a little beginner square on the needles, right next to the bed.  I have it still, two and a half years later.  I don’t know what to do with it, but it’s precious to me.

Why? In part, it’s about how she jumped into my life as I jumped into adulthood.  I went to college — she came to visit and exclaimed about getting to know the area around Philadelphia.  I started taking my writing more seriously — she pulled out the poetry she’d written most of her life and went to a class at The Writer’s Center.  I went to England for a semester abroad and promptly got horribly homesick — she came to see me and walked me all over the city of Oxford, pointing out places I could go for coffee to write and gardens I could walk in when I was feeling lonely.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  She used to tell me that she thought my sister and I “broadened her life,” because she would learn about the things we enjoyed and the places we lived.  I think it takes a special person to see the different stages in a child’s life that way — not as an ending, a gradual pulling-away, but as a new opportunity. And when she realized how important knitting was becoming to me, she tried it out, too.

These days, I remember other ways she supported my knitting, long ago.  She taught me to crochet when I was very young. I know I was doing it pretty obsessively when I was 9.  Before that it was embroidery, before that friendship bracelets or lanyards or those ribbon-covered barrettes.  The barrettes came about because we saw them at a store, and Mom tilted her head to the side and said, “We can make that.” She used to say that a lot, when I was little. Only about half the time were we actually able to make whatever it was, but she said it all the time.  Barbie clothes, painted boxes, shoes with beads on them…we can make that.

Mom’s mother lived to be 96, and we fully expected Mom to do the same. No one thought about the fact that Mom’s father died at 63 as well, when Mom was 24. So I was unprepared for her death, but from watching Mom with her own mother I knew that no one is ever really prepared.

She was giving a speech downtown. She’d been nervous about the speech — people have since told me that she did very well. Shortly after sitting down, she collapsed. She died very quickly, they told us at the hospital. She had a common heart defect — mitrovalve prolapse — that doesn’t usually cause sudden death. This time, the coroner told us later, it did. I found it in me to be glad she had died quickly. I found it in me to get through the memorial service, the funeral, the first day back at work, the days and weeks that followed.

For a while after she died I couldn’t knit. That’s not accurate — I wasn’t knitting. I didn’t feel right doing anything, and that included knitting. I didn’t want to think about the knitting party or any of the other opportunities I’d had to spend time with her that I’d squandered.

Then Danielle and Karida found out that I wasn’t knitting.  They were having none of that.  Karida asked me to test-knit something for her, and for Mother’s Day 2008 Danielle hired me to teach during her Mother’s Day workshop.  These two women brought me back to knitting and encouraged me to make it more central in my life. These little gestures probably meant very little to them, but they were so important to me.

A few hours after Mom died, as the relatives started to arrive from Oklahoma and the friends started to pack the house, I told myself that every hug I received from a woman was really a hug from Mom.  That helped me accept their love, their comfort.  Similarly, little gestures of love I received from women all over — some who knew my mother had died and some who didn’t — seemed to me to be sent by her.  Danielle’s and Karida’s gestures were two of those, reminders that I would be taken care of.

So I made a beginning on a different phase of my life – one without a mother, one with a lot of different knitting adventures. I started teaching knitting. I pitched a couple of patterns to Karida for her book. I tried to put some good out into the world in honor of Mom, in different ways.  I tried to focus on what was good in life, as she had.  I tried to focus on the ways I felt taken care of, as some friends who had lost parents told me to do. I looked at the little square of knitting she’d made and thanked her, hard, for all the ways she supported me and inspired me, and especially for telling me I could make anything.

There’s so much more to say about Jane Lawton. This is just a beginning. But today, this moment, what’s most important is the possibility she left behind: We can make that.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Christa permalink
    9 May 2010 6:51 am

    This is so beautiful. I am glad you were ready to share it. I can’t imagine losing my mom yet. The way your mom “jumped into” your life reminds me how my dad used to follow wherever my brother and I were in the world with maps…

  2. Denise permalink
    9 May 2010 8:30 am

    Thank you.

  3. Brooke permalink
    9 May 2010 9:50 am

    Well, Kathleen, my friend, you’ve succeeded in making me weep first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day. I can see you screwing up your face and saying, “Oh, I’m sorry! I never meant to do that.” But it’s OK, because it’s the right thing to do on this day, when you’ve lost your mom and she was the best, most perfect, most fun, most infuriating, most brilliant, most beautiful, and most loving person who ever walked your earth. It’s perfectly, absolutely fine. Thank you for some wonderful words.

  4. 9 May 2010 10:24 am

    That’s a beautiful piece about your mom, about motherhood but also about friendship and what it means to be passionate about something.

  5. 9 May 2010 12:40 pm


    This is beautiful. You had me in tears midway through. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. 9 May 2010 3:11 pm

    Yeah, I’m tearing up, too. Your mom drove me to that knitting party, in her new car. I will always remember her for her generous spirit. And what you write about her style of mothering is inspiring to me as someone with a small child.

  7. Melissa permalink
    9 May 2010 5:39 pm

    I love it. Love Cousin Melissa

  8. Geri Lyda permalink
    9 May 2010 7:55 pm

    That piece was beautifully written and so moving. I remember your Mom at the knitting party. We had lots of laughs at our beginner attempts at the yarn. Jane was an exceptionally talented and lovely woman. I am blessed to have known her, if only briefly. Having Jane for a mother is an excellent example of quality as opposed to quantity.

  9. 10 May 2010 3:52 pm

    Wow, guys. I’m so touched by all of your words. I’m tearing up now, too, Brooke!

  10. Kate permalink
    16 May 2010 9:53 pm

    This is a beautiful tribute – and in an odd bit of symmetry I was there that Mother’s Day 2008 – reintroducing my mother to knitting.

  11. Kathleen permalink*
    19 May 2010 3:51 pm

    Kate, how wonderful! I have a special place in my heart for all of you who were at that retreat; you helped me so much. How did your scarf turn out?

  12. Michele permalink
    18 July 2010 4:02 pm

    Kathleen, what a beautiful tribute. I feel as though there is quite a bit of your mother in you. Thank you for posting.

    • Kathleen permalink*
      18 July 2010 5:32 pm

      Oh, thank you! I love to think I have a little of her in me.

  13. 11 August 2011 5:21 am

    It’s wonderful story about your mom i love your story about your mom and also i love you and i love your sharing your story with us. i love knitting too much.

  14. 11 August 2011 5:23 am

    Also i love to learn knitting from you thanks alot that you let us sharing with you the knitting and the wonderful story about your mom.

    Thanks again.

  15. rosemary mcbee permalink
    10 August 2012 6:37 pm

    Kathleen- I was so pleased to get this from Sue Mayhue- I balled as I read it and remembered what good times we had from early morning come as you are parties that Jane was famous for- with her Mother – they loved picking us all up at 7 am on a Saturday and going to their house for breakfast in our Pjs.
    What a beautiful tribute to my very best friend- I miss your mom so very much- we could go 6 months without talking then either I or she would call and we would pick up right where we left off- we had had such a great trip all together in Norman that previous spring or summer- anyway I am so glad to see your blog and make contact once again and know that you are knitting- perhaps I took after your mom in that area— I still have a baby blanket in the case complete with instructions and yarn and about 12 inches completed in a beautiful mock cable- for my Jessica – from 1970—–perhaps I will finish it for my first great grand daughter.!! anyway my own daughter is knitting all the time and doing some classes in Kansas City- I forwarded this tribute to her so she could enjoy it as well because she knew how close we were- I never will forget the time she took the dormitory doorr off its hinges with a friend and stored it in the next dorm through the fire door-major infraction- if caught–during finals our freshmen year!! I came home and they thought it was hysterical that I could not find the door! We shared lots of tears and laughs that year together.
    Please stay in touch as I want to know more about you and your family. Give my best to your dad. and by the way keep on writing! your mom would be so proud.
    Hugs and best wishes,

    Rosemary Shipe McBee

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