Standing amidst the array of headstones, I close my eyes to contemplate the events that brought me to this place.
June 8, 2005: Dawn awakened with the simplicity of an ordinary day, but the surreal illusion of normalcy was shattered with the annoying ring of my cell phone. “Hello,” I answered, unaware that my world was about to be forever changed. An instinctive sensation of dread began to spread throughout my entire body as I listened to the familiar voice break on the other end of the line. I braced myself and held my breath in expectation. “What’s wrong?” I heard myself ask, unsure of whether I wanted an answer.
My ears heard the response, but my brain was unable to absorb the reality. The words “so sorry” and “massive heart attack” echoed in my mind as my faculties turned numb. The unexpected news became my new reality, and nothing else mattered. In that defining moment, I experienced contrasting emotions understood only by those who have experienced this thing called grief. Shock, sadness, disbelief, loneliness, anger and confusion permeated every cell of my being all at once. A living, breathing human light had flickered for one last time only this morning: with no explanation or warning, Mother had been called home.
I have been taught my entire life that death is merely the closing of one door and the opening of another. In the deep recesses of my soul, I believe that; but until it abruptly interrupted my life, I didn’t understand the depth of that doorway. I found myself helpless to alleviate the throbbing in my own heart, yet I drew from an unseen inner strength and put on a brave front while we chose the casket and ordered flowers. I held my children close while they said their tearful good-byes, unable for the first time in their young lives to “make it better.” Never having anticipated being asked to write my mother’s obituary, I wasn’t quite sure how to encapsulate a lifetime of memories into a few printed words of a newspaper column, but I somehow stumbled through.
When the busyness of planning the funeral and the immediate shock began to wear off, the guilt and regrets set in fast and furious. So many unanswered questions bounced around inside my head–most of them beginning with that oft-repeated phrase, “if only”. I‘ve imagined that good-bye conversation in my dreams many nights, but it was not meant to be. After a lifetime of stubborn independence, why do I now feel so alone and abandoned?
January 3, 2009: “Happy Birthday, Mom! I wish I knew what to get you for your birthday this year. Many of your treasured photos and personal belongings now sit in my home, and I’m reminded that the things we spend our whole lives acquiring are in the end just “things”, boxes taking up space on a dusty shelf in the basement. I suppose that money or possessions don’t matter much on your side of the doorway anyway, so, I offer you a birthday gift of a different kind today, a gift that will have to remain unopened.”
“Just for you, just for today: I will smile when I feel like crying; I will forgive myself for not being perfect; I will choose to not be offended; I will give others the benefit of the doubt; I will be kind to a stranger; I will laugh; I will make that phone call; I will ignore the dirty dishes in the sink and spend time with my children; I will dig deep inside and find the strength to take a risk. I hope you enjoy your day as you celebrate your birth with Him who gave you life. I imagine that the mansion He prepared for you is wonderful and that you are surrounded by those you love.”
The cold cemetery wind abruptly reminds me where I am standing, so I wipe my tears and ask myself a silent question: Does time in fact heal all wounds? I haven’t quite decided as I still long to hear the sound of Mother’s quiet, timid voice. I miss her phone calls and her laugh and her simple, humble smile. Sometimes I close my eyes and picture her face, afraid that I will forget the features that were uniquely hers. There is so much I wish I could tell her; so much left unsaid.
Amidst the storm, I have also experienced a great deal of peace and comfort. I have learned a great deal about myself and the strength of the human soul. I catch an unexpected glimpse of Mom every now and then, just often enough for her to remind me she isn’t far away. Sometimes I see her in a bouquet of freshly picked flowers or in the shadows of a rainbow peeking through a rainy sky or in the smiling faces of one of her grandchildren. Perhaps the wounds don’t quite heal, but the sun does in fact rise every morning, bringing with it new opportunities, dreams and adventures.
Until that day comes when I once again look into her eyes and feel of her warm embrace, I continue to offer my daily gift of loyalty and remembrance. Just for today, I honor and remember this remarkable woman who taught me everything I needed to know about life, love, strength, forgiveness, hard work and motherhood. May God be with you and with me until we meet again.