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Packing in the Love for Summer Camp

A camp ritual without my mom is bittersweet

It’s been long enough now – more than two years, somehow, unbelievably – that I don’t miss my mom every second of every day. 

I go full days without thinking of her and full weeks without openly sobbing. 

It’s progress.

But, because I loved her so much for so long, I still have moments that take my breath away with missing her, moments when I don’t fully grasp – still! after more than two years, somehow, unbelievably – that I can’t just pick up the phone and call her. 

The first Carnival parades of the season, the more family-friendly ones … those were always our scene. I will never go to Krewe of Pontchartrain, Freret, Pygmalion, or Carrollton without feeling wistful. 

Saints games were also always a source of bonding for us. From the Morten Andersen and Jim Mora days when she would patiently explain to me how field goals worked to the Drew Brees and Sean Payton glory days when we couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing, we lived it together. 

Hurricanes, too. Until Ida, I had never done a hurricane – all of the tracking, the hand-wringing, the “should we stay or should we go,” the emptying out of the freezers and checking of the flashlight batteries – without my mom by my side. It might be crazy, but I still talk to her when I see a hurricane start flirting with the Gulf. 

And the camp trunk. This is the one that’s hitting me now. 

I am notoriously terrible at spatial awareness, but my mom was a genius at it. So every year, when we had to pack my older daughter’s trunk for camp, my mom would come over. 

She would always bring some practical items – lightweight towels, bug spray – along with special treats – stickers, silly socks. But mostly what she brought was her keen sense of how to make everything fit in the trunk. 

For hours the night before camp, she and I would sit and roll clothes and drink some wine and listen to Talking Heads and try to get a tennis racquet, beach towels, hiking boots, a sleeping bag, sunscreen, a portable fan, batteries, shampoo, toothpaste, and 21 days’ worth of everything my child might need into a standard-size camp trunk. We always did it. I never could have done it alone. 

So now, this weekend, as I go to pack my younger daughter’s camp trunk for the first time, it is with excitement and joy but also deep sadness. There will be no one showing up to save the day with crazy socks and the common sense to lay the tennis racquet flat on the bottom. 

But I will channel her spirit and talk to her while I haphazardly shove items into the trunk. I will talk to her just like I do during hurricanes, like a crazy person … or just a sad, lonely daughter. Some things can’t fit in a trunk – but yet you can carry them with you wherever you go anyway. 

Because even if I didn’t inherit her spatial awareness, I did learn from her how to make sure my daughters know they are loved and cared for, whether they are here or across the globe. And I know that wherever she is, she wants me to feel her love and care, too. It’s not the same as being able to call her or listen to music with her, not even a little bit, but a bond like we had is still there, even after death.

I still feel her love (even if that makes me sound nuts) and I know she will be with me as I sit there rolling clothes. And if she happens to whisper some secret wisdom in my ear as I try to figure out where to squeeze in the shower caddy … well, so much the better. I can use all the help I can get.

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