My beautiful, vibrant, loving Mom died on August 5th. She went into the hospital for a heart bypass surgery her doctors assured us and we believed she would sail through because she was so strong, so vital for her eight decades of living, but there were serious complications during surgery and finally, after a week of machines and medicines and prayers for healing it became clear that physical healing was not going to come, so my sister, brother and I made the decision to release her into the hands of God, the only one who could give her the ultimate healing of death and the new life to come. I am profoundly grateful that my sister and I have now shared the experience of sitting at the bedside of both of our parents as their lives drifted away; that we have prayed for them, held their hands, shed tears of loss and grief but also of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of their lives and their love. I will be forever grateful that when our mother’s heart finally stopped its beating and she took her last breath, my sister and I both reached out our hands at the same moment and touched her head and said the words of Commendation from our Book of Common Worship as we gave her back to God who had given her to us. Our parents were present when we came into the world, and it was a gift to be present with them when they left the world. My faith is deep in its assurance that they are both well and healed and whole, living eternally in God’s loving presence, “lost in wonder, love and praise.” But, I have not been able to “blog” since her death. I have made some attempts but my words, that so often flow so easily, seem to have left me and I find I do not have words to give voice in any meaningful way to what my soul is experiencing as I walk through this particular “valley of the shadow of death.”
First, there is this truth: my mother was my heart’s true home. She was my true North, my best friend and closest companion. Because I lived in the same city with her, and because we both lived alone, we were in daily conversation with each other—at least once, sometimes a few times a day. When my parents divorced when I was sixteen, my Mom and I lived together, just the two of us much of the year as both my sister and brother had gone off to college, and a relationship that had always been close became even closer. She grounded me, and when our family life was changing around us she remained my constant, the center of my sense of home. Through all the changes of my life in the years since then, she remained that grounding force for me, she continued to be the center of my sense of home as I moved from place to place for school and work. Whatever joys I experienced in my life, whatever griefs I may have known, she was always there: steady, loving, strong, shining like a beacon in times of darkness so I could find my way back home, back to life and love and hope. When our father died four years ago, the powerful connection to our Mom as our true home only grew stronger. Perhaps because I do not have a spouse or children of my own, she was the very definition of “family” for me. No matter what else might be happening in the world or in my life, I knew I always had a safe place with her, a soft place to land where I would be loved and welcomed and encouraged to be my best self.
And now, she is gone. When she first died, I did not have any real sense of her presence—she was simply and entirely gone. In her place there was a profound silence and to borrow a saying that I have discovered again to have so much truth in it: there was “the presence of an absence” that was palpable and overwhelming. I did not dream of her; I did not sense her presence; I could not “locate” her no matter how I longed to be able to feel her with me. She was simply and profoundly “gone” from me. That has eased somewhat as time has passed. I have dreamed of her in more recent days. I am beginning to have a sense of her again as the deepest sadness begins to lift a bit.
But still, I feel “untethered.” I do not know a better word to describe it. I feel as if the ties that bound me to so much of life have come loose and I have a sense of being alone in the world in a very real and profound way. I have other family: a wonderful sister and brother, loving nephews and nieces, beautiful friends who are family to me as well, a supportive church community, work that I love and is important to me and sometimes important to others, a faith that sustains me, but those things have not lessened the sense of loneliness I feel in the wake of my mother’s absence. There is also this strong desire in me for the world to just slow down, to give space and time to mark this loss properly—how does the world continue to spin without her in it? Everything feels too noisy, too fast, too busy as my spirit longs for quiet, and space, and stillness to heal.
I know that I will find my way again. I know that I will be able to engage fully in life again. I also know that the world never stops spinning; it goes on with its busyness, its clamor, its relentless march onward. The same is true for all of us—when we are gone the world will not stop its spinning either. I know that somehow, life does and will continue to go on without the woman who gave birth to me, who nurtured me throughout my life, who always believed in me, who has been my closest confidant and constant companion and heart’s true home. I know that eventually I will stop picking up the phone to call her; stop thinking: “I need to tell Mom about that”; stop looking for her in our familiar places. I know that eventually the knot in the pit of my stomach that never goes away will eventually ease and perhaps even disappear; the panicked feeling that I have forgotten or lost something important will fade. I know that eventually I will no longer be surprised by sudden tears. I know that our family will survive the firsts that are looming for us—the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays without her. I know that joy will find its way back into my heart. I know this, in part, because I have watched so many others that I love walk this same journey and they have lived to tell of it. All of us experience grief in this life if we live long enough and love anyone deeply. It is one of the things that binds us together as human beings–this experience of grief. I have grieved before, deeply, and have survived to find my way back to life and joy and hope and so have so many of us. So many of those who walked this path of grieving their mother before me sent me beautiful cards and notes assuring me that this particular loss was profound but that life would find its equilibrium again. I know I will find other things to “tether” me to life. I know that God is with me in the midst of this grief. I know that someday, my words will return to me and flow more easily again. I know that my Mom, though she still feels so far from me, is with me all the same and that her legacy of strength, love, integrity, intelligence, compassion, faithfulness, and grace will point the way as I continue down this path, providing me with a model for a life well-lived. I know that Mom is in the presence of God, reunited with others she and we have loved and lost. I know she is “well” in the deepest sense of that word. And I know that, in time, I will be able to sing again: “It is well with my soul.”
I know all those things. But, for now, I just miss my Mom.