My mother died in 1999. That’s when I realized what mattered.
Until then, I thought I had every last thing–wonderful husband, wonderful daughter, wonderful chance to publish a book, that turned out to be Sweet Moon Baby.
But the devastating loss of my mother, a larger-than-life presence who squeezed the best out of each day, left me paralyzed. My mother could do at least fifteen things at once to perfection. She did them with a single-minded intent, grabbing me by the hand to share the adventure beside her. The task might be routine, but she jollied me into thinking it was the chance of a lifetime. She was wise and funny and devoted to my valuable contribution. She saw to it that I succeeded at whatever it was, quoting from The Little Engine That Could who climbed an impossibly steep mountainside track. As I grew up, the challenges were increasingly harder, but she convinced me that with another tap, turn, or try, I’d make it. Quitting was never an option.
“Anything worth doing, is worth doing well,” she said with a smile that shot sunbeams of possibility through my doubting heart.
Without her steadfast encouragement, I couldn’t see how I’d rise to accomplish anything again.
She’d been gone for three days when I found the first dime.
While Maggie, who was two and a half, napped, I cried silently in the rocking chair. I was sinking. Then my eye caught a glimmer. In the distant corner, a single dime sparkled from the most unlikely location. Something about it did not seem random, so I placed it on my dresser.
The next day, as I carried groceries into the house, a wave of despair overtook me. Grief does that. With no warning, it covers your soul with the cold fingerprints of regret. As I placed the sacks down to find a tissue, I saw a dime by our door. I picked up the blinking comfort.
This appearance of dimes continued, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs. They always seemed to radiate something about my mother. Maggie found them. Then Cliff. We couldn’t explain it. We’d never found dimes in our lives before. Maggie named them Nana dimes.
We took her to Disneyland for a distraction after losing my mother because the heartbroken toddler could not comprehend why her grandmother would leave without saying goodby. Sadness swept through me when we approached the “Small World” ride I’d ridden with my mother at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. It had been her favorite attraction. I knew she would have loved taking Maggie through it. Overwhelmed by her loss, I hesitated, trying not to cry in the world’s happiest park. There on the pavement ahead, gleaming alone, untouched by the passing crowd, was a dime. I picked it up, believing my mother would indeed ride with us.
The people who helped my mother at the end of her life all found dimes within months of her passing. It made sense; she always sent thank you notes. Her housekeeper’s skeptical husband said, “I don’t think God works that way.” I answered, “Maybe not. But I believe my mother could.” He dropped by several days later to say he, too, had found a dime.
In Sweet Moon Baby, I searched for a way to include her dimes in the story. Maggie’s arrival from China was the grandest day in my mother’s life. Perhaps no one ever loved a grandchild the way she did. Widowed at forty-six, she’d packed away a trunk of certain joys. But Maggie was her unexpected blessing. And so I wrote:
They crisscrossed a hundred roads. Coins twinkling like scattered moon beams
took them from corner to corner.
By now I’ve found almost 350 dimes. Each one appeared on a day when I struggled or on a day when I was elated. The same is true for dimes found by Cliff and Maggie. Their arrival feels linked to something we would have shared with her.
There must be a way to calculate the odds for finding dimes. An equation surely exists to explain this event.
I don’t care about numbers.
The other day Maggie helped me plant grass seed. I don’t like yard work. She doesn’t either. Like any teenager, she was not at her best. I remembered my mother patiently overlooking my poor attitude about things I didn’t want to do. So I started telling her about my mother’s yard-planting joy and how she hoed huge expanses, removing every twig and pebble, raking the space for all it was worth, faithfully watering twice a day. “Those seeds knew better than to disappoint Nana,” I told her.
Once my mother died, I understood what mattered. At first I thought death meant I’d lost her forever. But she wasn’t about to let that happen. Not my mother. She had no intention of letting anything get in her way. Ever. While death is a powerful reality, it can’t hold a candle to the certainty of love.
In each dime.
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