Exactly one year ago today, I hugged my sweet Mama for the last time. I still remember holding on tight to her and not wanting to let go, scared and uncertain of how exactly I was supposed to do that. I soon came to realize that it’s not until the physical body is gone that you truly begin to hold onto the soul. At that moment, when there is nothing left to grasp onto, the best part of a loved one’s soul holds tight to you instead and helps guide you through the most difficult moments of your life. It is at that time that you begin to feel the magnitude of love that has ebbed and flowed between the two of you.
There is not a day that passes that I do not think of Mama all the time. Her face is at the forefront of my mind as I rise and her words of wisdom comfort me at night as I try to wind down from the challenges of the day. She is in the stories that I share with friends and the advice that I offer to my students. Her words lift from my tongue without realization until the thought pops into my mind that it is exactly something she would say. When I’m feeling sad, thoughts of her kindness comfort me. When I’m feeling angry, memories of her strength and perseverance enter my mind. When I’m feeling happy, recollection of her laughter envelopes my heart.
She is with me today just as much as she was all the years before. I cannot hug her tightly in my arms; but, I can feel her arms wrapped around my heart. I cannot share in conversation with her; but, I can sense her words of comfort daily. I cannot taste her food, ask her a question, or comfort her when she cries. But there is one thing for certain I can experience…..each time my chimes ring….which tends to be often these days….it sure feels like her voice rising just above all the other angels on high to sing a song of happiness and support.
One of the things that stands out so strongly in my memory of Mama in her final days is how positively she acknowledged her final visits with friends and family. Instead of saying goodbye each time someone came to visit her during that final week, Mama tended to say, “See you tomorrow.” It remains as one of my most cherished memories of her final days. I love that goodbye was not an option for her, but instead a simple statement reminding us all that we will enjoy a loving reunion somewhere later on down the line, was.
Miss U! Love U! Mean it, my sweet Mama!!
“See you tomorrow!!”
It was exactly one year ago today that I boarded a plane back to my sweet Mama to hug her, full of certainty that all would be okay. Truth be told, somewhere beneath the conscious state of life there lied a hazy cloud of fear and a true clarity that if hope could be suffocated I would have certainly accomplished that with how tightly I was holding onto it. That was the longest three hours of my life. It’s strange how the body is what is oftentimes associated with restlessness when confined to a small space; but, the mind can be just as restless when equally as limited. What I discovered that day is that it is also possible for the heart to take up so much room in your chest that it becomes fitful as well.
In all honesty, my memory of the day is much more like a snapshot of events displayed in a photo album. I often wonder if in order for the mind to hold onto important experiences during stressful times, it must reduce the impact of information to snapshots instead because the full documentary would be way too much to relive. I liken the day to a viewing with the old View Master from my childhood. I’m able to peer through the eye piece, clicking through each picture, but not recalling all of the little information in between each slide…..wiping a tear from behind the sunglasses shading my swollen eyes….hugging my sister at the airport….walking into the hospital….seeing my aunt and cousin approach in the hallway…the look of concern on my twin’s face…my brother holding hands with his lovely fiance…my Dad’s comforting embrace…my aunt’s beautiful blue eyes filled with worry…….Mama’s smile………Mama’s laugh………Mama’s strength…….Mama……..
The whole day is sealed in my memory this way, which is so out of the ordinary for me. My mind typically runs a reel of recollection, not simple snapshots. I can only guess that my mind, heart, and body have decided to work together to ensure I’m still standing throughout the constant highs and lows of reliving these days.
It does stand that some information is too close to the heart to even place down on paper. It’s as if it’s secured in a special spot that is only allowed access by those that experienced it together. I know the struggles my family is having during this time and find comfort in the notion that they truly understand every single snapshot that invades each of our hearts and minds during this recurrence of emotions and feelings of such great sadness. I also know that Mama is with me. I can feel the warmth of her presence and see her smile at the forefront of my mind. I will make it through this day….and tomorrow as well…and so on. My promise to myself is to let the tears flow when they come and the laughter bubble up as each snapshot clicks into clear view reminding me of the amazing mother that I was so very lucky to call my Mama.
Today, as I was looking through some paperwork in my study, my gaze fell upon a silver box holding several cards. I have often glanced at it over the past year, but have hesitated in rereading any of the notes filling it. I finally lifted one out and opened it again, knowing that what I would read inside was sure to bring tears. No one tells you when you lose someone that through all of the hurt and pain you experience there is an additional emotional tide that waves over you each time you feel the support of those reaching out to you. The love that is experienced in those moments is so bittersweet. It is a pure mixture of sweet kindness and bitter reminders. I don’t know how to ever truly thank those that have reached out to me in my lowest moments and carried me through my biggest struggles. I know that I have expressed thanks in various ways, but there is a place deep down in my soul that fears I will leave someone without proper acknowledgement. I hope they know how much all of their kind words, deeds, support, presence, and hugs mean to me. I also hope that Mama feels it too. I so wish that she could see how people love her and how much of an impact she made on all of our lives.
I read through each and every one of those cards today. It felt good to re-experience the kindness of my friends and embrace the love that was included within them. I have one friend in particular that gave me a statue of two figures in an embrace. It was gifted as a reminder that Mom’s embrace is always with me. I look at it every day and remember its message. I draw a certain sense of strength from it and am very cognizant of the blessing of friendships that I have. There are so many special things in my house now that seem to take on much more importance than others and only those closest to me realize the magnitude of significance they hold. To some they might just appear to be objects, but for me, they are constant reminders of those that have supported me, loved me, guided me, and continue to help me regain my footing throughout this difficult year. The cards are exactly that….a reminder that even when I feel I am all alone….someone is keeping me close to their heart and right in the center of their well wishes….and that brings a different sense of comfort.
The events of a year ago are flooding back in as if they’ve been out to sea for a while and have decided to return for a visit. I remember very vividly hanging up the phone with Mom and being profoundly affected by the change in her voice. The effects of her last radiation treatment had left her with slurred speech and this hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the beginning of a loss so great it shatters one’s soul. I remember crying at the thought of never again hearing the sound of my mother as I’d known it all of my life. It devastated me and fueled me into an all out search for anything that had Mama’s voice on it. I can remember replaying messages in hopes of rediscovering it. One night, as I sat idle in my car under a blanket of foggy night sky, I called my brother and confessed my concern of never hearing my sweet Mama’s voice again and how selfish I felt for even wishing to. I knew I should be focused on comforting and supporting her as opposed to fulfilling my own self-centered wishes. I couldn’t help it though. Just once I longed to hear the sound of her unaltered tone.
Somewhere in all the sadness and longing, I realized what the alternative would be and soon embraced a new hope that all would be okay and her eloquent dialogue would return. My aunt reassured me that there was a good chance that the effects would lessen as time marched on. The exhilaration of knowing this was almost too much to contain. I called Mama at various times in the day to listen to the differences. It was evident that morning was always a bit better and as fatigue set in; the evenings were more of a strain. One morning in particular she was very clear and glimpses of her former quick witted tongue were evident. I look back on that phone conversation in particular and realize it was just a few days later that I boarded the plane to return to her. We are approaching that day now. I know this is why I am faced with sleepless nights and an increasingly aching heart.
It’s always in hindsight that you realize you should embraced each moment as they come; because now, I wish I could hear anything associated with her, her laughter, her tears, her humor, and yes, even her slurred speech. I would welcome any sound from her and hold tight to it with every ounce of my being knowing full well how precious each utterance is.
The most amazing thing is, right now in this very instance………I can hear my wind chimes ringing…..and you better believe I’m going to embrace it wholeheartedly!
Some nights the hurt from her loss is so deep that sleep evades you and no comfort can be found within the warmth of your covers. These nights are by far the loneliest of all.
There are some things that just don’t make any sense to me. I understand how music, or memories, or objects can trigger a moment of sorrow. However, I cannot completely grasp why random words conjure up sadness with such forceful power.
Yesterday, as I was watching a movie, the word laughter was mentioned by one of the characters on the screen. It had such little significance in the overall story line. It was not something that was supposed to stand out. It was just a word slipping through the lips of some unknown person, which had no relevance on my life. But in that moment, the very second that the word floated into air, it was as if a freight train came charging through my mind, zipping down multiple tracks, picking up images of Mama laughing. It left me winded, confused, overwhelmed and crying.
I get how the word connected to the images creates a reaction. I just can’t fathom how the brain just plucks instances out of nowhere and decides it’s time to release a bit of emotion. It was such a dormant moment in time. Maybe that’s why. Possibly, when the body is at complete relaxation and rest, it allows the subconscious to grasp onto anything it wants to and the imagination to conjure up that which is floating just below the surface of consciousness.
Whatever it may be, I embrace it. It allowed me a moment in time to imagine sweet snapshots of Mama….and that is always a welcome invitation.
My birthday weekend is coming to an end today. I was so worried throughout this entire month about how I might react on the actual day. Typically, I spend time prior to the day planning out what I’d like to do. I have always gone to the spa for at least one of the days. As well, I tend to have a large group of people over for a home cooked meal with champagne and cupcakes. On big birthdays I plan elaborate celebrations. But this year felt different. I was dreading it. I really did not know how I was going to react to the silence of Mom’s birthday wish. I was so used to her calling up and doing that typical thing that Mom’s do by reliving the day you came into the world. It just didn’t feel right. My friends kept asking me in the kindest of ways, “So what are we going to do?” I just kept stalling. I felt like I wanted to just sit on the couch the entire day in complete silence; but, that didn’t seem right either in light of how I typically enjoy my birthday. So I finally decided on keeping it small with friends I felt certain would follow my lead. I knew that this group of friends would either live it up with a bang…or just as easily lie down in the grass, eyes lifted to the sky, and cry with me.
I waited until the day before my actual birthday to spring the plan on my friends. I decided on an early breakfast with a leisurely drive through the vineyards and some wine tasting. The day would end with a visit to the Solvang Brewing Company for one of their infamous Viking Corn Dogs. As can be expected with this group, they leaped at the chance to join in on the day. Their support was expected, but their exuberance was intoxicating. I began to become excited about the day rather than pensive. These amazing women that I choose to live my life around took their most envied personality traits and simultaneously filled my little wounded heart with hope. They were enthusiastic, encouraging, supportive, flexible and leaping feet first into this uncertain day with me. I love them for that. I love that they pushed their lives aside to fill the hours of my day with a quiet reassurance that all would be okay.
Seeing as the majority of my day was planned out, I knew that I needed to save a piece of it for Mama. So in the wee hours of the morning, I headed out the door with my loyal companion, Marcello, for a much needed walk of remembrance, release of sadness, and recognition of why I even have a birthday. I made sure Mom’s playlist was set and I started my Birthday Walk! I cried through most of it, Marcello glancing up at me now and then to make sure I was okay. I began so early in the morning that I doubted anyone would even pass our path and if they had, I wouldn’t have even noticed or cared. This walk was for my own peace of mind and to fill a little hole in my heart with birthday memories.
I won’t go into detail about what exactly ran through my mind during that time, but my biggest hope is that Mama somehow heard me and knows how much I miss hearing her voice and long to hug her one more time. I wanted to thank her for giving me a reason to even need to celebrate my birthday. The only way I could imagine these celebrations filled with laughter and love is if somewhere along the path of my life someone else had shown me how important I was to even justify such observance. I thanked her for so many things that early morning and as I entered my home at the finality of my walk, the phone rang and Dad’s voice filled the air. The two people who brought me into this world unknowingly shared the exact same space and time on my birthday and this brought the greatest sense of tranquility to my day. It filled my day with the love I needed to move forward without guilt or sadness….and that is exactly what I did….I celebrated life that day!!