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!
Today, as my body was pulled from its heavy dose of slumber, I seemed to instantly wake with pancakes on my mind. This is highly unusual for me. I typically wake with thoughts about Mom. I was saddened by the prospect that today may be the preface to that inevitable evolution in this process. At any rate, pancakes were on my mind and I could tell it was going to be one of those cravings that just wasn’t going to evaporate into thin air. Something concrete was required to help it dissipate.
Since I am not one to make pancakes very often, a cookbook was going to be necessary. As I browsed through my treasured collection of recipe filled bibles, I found that I instantly went to my most recent additions in hopes of stumbling upon a new favorite concoction. However, as I flipped through, peered at, and contemplated adjustments, it became clear that sometimes new isn’t best. Sometimes, the old, tried and true is ultimately what one needs. I finally reached in and carefully pulled out the very first cookbook I ever received. It is not one that I go to often now, typically opting for the newer, more en vogue cookbooks, but I had high hopes and few other options to rely upon.
As I laid it carefully on the counter, I found my fingers gently running over it and memories of Mama coming to me. Although the color was fading and the pages browned, spotted, wrinkled and torn, I felt certain what I was seeking was hidden inside. I took my time in savoring this moment as I knew exactly what I would see when I opened the cover page. In our family for years we have included an inscription in those cookbooks that we are offering to one another as gifts of celebration. I knew that I would find that and as my anticipation lingered just under my emotions, I opened the book and found myself staring at exactly what I feel was destined for me today, “Happy Cooking, Love Mom and Dad, Christmas 1986.” As I looked at the signatures, I realized that Dad had filled out the inscription. I’m not sure why this affected me so much, but I found myself absolutely loving the fact that both of them had touched this gift and left their own mark to linger.
So as I collected ingredients and supplies, measured amounts and blended to combine, I thought about how long it had actually been since I made traditional pancakes. I truly couldn’t even remember. It felt like old times. It felt like being home with Mom in the kitchen and it felt nostalgic; but most of all, it felt like the mending of a broken heart and it soon filled me with love and happy moments with Mama.
I’ve had some people write with concerns of their own journey as a parent, child, and even sibling. Doubts of whether or not they are doing as much as they can. Loving as much as they can. Giving as much as they can. There have been comparisons to their personal journeys with Mama’s, indicating a sense of inadequacy. I fall short in having an answer to those concerns other than this one thought that I actively try to live my life remembering daily.
I truly believe we are only capable of giving what we have within us to give at any given moment in time. There will be moments when we are capable of more and most definitely moments when we can only give so much. Knowing this of ourselves, it seems only right to extend the same leniency to those we love.
When I write memories of Mama, I choose to reflect on her during her most giving, tolerant, and loving moments in life. That is not to say that she did not have down moments or loss of hope at times. She most definitely had her “off days” and doubts of her own journey through life.
We all do.
But, I hope when it comes time to reflect on my own path and for others to reflect on it as well, that I am uplifted and remembered for what I’ve done right and a grace provided to allow my shortcomings to rest quietly.
I write this post simply as reassurance to those that have uncertainties to recognize that we all have those same unsettling moments in life. My only words of wisdom, because I am the same as you, is to have faith that you are doing the best you can and giving all that you are capable of in this exact given moment….today.
There are times during this journey where you start to feel the shift of what used to be normalcy slide into something new and unexpected. Last night was one of those nights. During the latest hours of the evening, I received a call from my brother. While watching the news, he had just heard about the 5.3 earthquake shakin’ up my side of the world. It’s the simple little acts like this that are making a shift in our family. That call would have typically come from Mama, but in her absence, my brother stepped in and did what we all hope to provide for each other now that she is gone, someone to say, “I’m here for you. I may be miles away, over mountains, and across oceans, but I’m right there with you.” We all need this now more than ever. It’s one of those little things that Mom did that once subtracted from the equation, would off balance our lives tremendously if not replaced by some other equally caring act. She was the glue that held us together. She was the peacemaker and the news broadcaster. She was all of our “go to person.” So in her absence, when that phone call came through with my sweet, loving brother on the other end, it left my heart whole and my soul comforted. He filled in a piece of the hole left by Mom’s absence with a new normal….and I love him so very much for that.