DECEMBER 2, 2002. 8:00 AM.
I have just returned from school where I told the principal about my mother. He has sent me home. The light on the answering machine is blinking.
“Linda? This is Dad. Mom passed away at 6:45 this morning.”
DECEMBER 14, 2002.10:00 AM.
There is something comforting about the rituals learned in my childhood; genuflecting at the altar, bowing on the padded kneelers, reciting words learned in long-ago catechism classes. Though my beliefs have grown and changed and I have left much of this ritual behind me, I am still able to take consolation in the smell of the incense rising to Heaven. So many images of Mom assail my senses! Sitting next to her during Sunday morning mass, the hats she kept carefully in hat boxes on the top shelf of her closet perched on our heads. Mom fingering her white rosary beads, kneeling in the pew while I--years away from my first communion--play with the doll that is attached to my white winter muff. Mom taking me around the Stations of the Cross at Easter, the sunshine streaming in through the stained glass windows. And now I kneel, remembering her, letting the familiar words of Father Ray’s recitations wash over me and comfort me. I have no words of my own now; the tears are too close to the surface to risk speaking just yet, but the ancient words of the Catholic Mass for the Dead seem to say it all for me. I am comforted.
Mom is gone from our physical presence. We formally bid her farewell today. But here in the front pew of Saint Edmund’s on summer Sundays to come, I will feel her spirit. She will continue to touch me in a thousand ways.
Godspeed, Mom. We did all we could for you in our finite human ways. When we knew we could not save your life, we tried to give you a dignified death. In the days to come, I will continue to do things for Dad, things you would have done if you were still here.
And your love will guide me.
DECEMBER 21, 2002. 10:00 AM.
I am a motherless child. The words of the song echo in my head today as I go about household chores: laundry, shopping, cleaning. I rearrange the Christmas Village, organize the gifts, to hang the Christmas stockings although I am not really in a Christmas mood. I made a dark joke at breakfast this morning, commenting on how the excitement of the holidays frequently made Mom sick.
“She topped that this year”, I said. “This year, for the holidays she is dead”. But I apologized at once to Heaven, and to Mom who was certainly listening. Maybe I am coming into the anger stage of grief, mad at her for leaving me too soon, before I was ready to face the world without a mother.
I almost welcome the pain, the pinpricks of it that stab at me in the odd moments of the day. I test it now and then, like one tests a sensitive tooth to see if it still hurts. It is proof that I am still alive, that I can love, that my mother really did exist and was not just a beautiful dream I have awakened from.
There are reminders of her everywhere. A song, a word, a color will remind me of her and bring the smart sting of tears to my eyes. Sometimes--in school, for instance--I can fight them back, but sometimes I am so choked up with my grief but I have no choice but to let its spill out of me, over the lids of my eyes and down my cheeks, damn the make-up. Some days are harder than others for no explicable reason. Wednesday was one of them, a day in which I met Mom at every turn. We were hosting three groups of preschool students for the annual Holiday House and on the second group I broke into tears when Monique walked into my room with a cup of tea. She hugged me and told me to go take a break, she would take over. I found some solace in my own cup of tea in the faculty room, sat in the office and talked with Pat for a few moments, rejoiced that I had caring colleagues who understood what I was going through in some way.
Sometimes, I just need to cry. I tried to explain this to Ron, who feels the need to hold me when the tears start. But there are moments when my grief is too personal to share, when I need to curl up in my own little hole and just weep from my childhood and the memories of it that died with Mom. Only she held the moments of my birth in her mind and in her body, only she knew what it felt like to hold me in her arms for the first time. As much as he might try to understand, I tell Ron, he cannot, he has not lost his mother.
Dennis called today, wanting Christmas ideas and knowledge of our plans. I have no plans, not really. It seems too ludicrous to be concerned with gifts and parties when I’ve just recently watched my mother breathe her last. It will be a low-key Christmas, I tell him. Don’t go overboard. And he concurs that he, too, does not much feel like celebrating. There is an awkward moment at the end of a conversation. I say,” I love you,” quickly and he says, “Me you, too”. Am I dying myself? Dennis has not admitted to a loving me since he was 10. Bonnie tells me he has been calling her cell phone every couple of days, just to talk. We are all trying to stay connected.
DECEMBER 31, 2002. 4:00 PM.
Life boiled down to the essence. It was a message preached by Pastor Watt not long before Thanksgiving. It is what we are living now. Life boiled down to the essence. Do and say the important things and hang the rest. Live in the moment, pray for the future, let go of the past. Even as others offer their sympathies at Mom’s passing, I never fail to say this: I have peace with her. Every conversation we had since our relationship with boiled down to once a week phone calls ended with “I love you”. These were the last words I said to my mother on Thanksgiving night, at least the last words I spoke to her while she was conscious. That was at 9:00 PM on Thursday; less than 12 hours later, she’d slipped into a coma from a massive brain bleed. I hoped that my last words were still in her ears.
I am, I’ve told everyone who cares to listen, running on my last cell. For years, my life has been in upheaval. Mom’s death has been the final straw. I’m not quite broken, but bending. I sleep soundly and deeply when time allows, but awaken still craving more sleep. It is not avoidance but true exhaustion. It is both physical and emotional.
Sometimes I think of Mom has my own guardian angel now, although I know that the angels are created beings. Still, it is comforting to think that she can still hear me and understand me. I ask her questions, knowing what her answer would be. And I ask her to watch over me and my children.
It is a comfort just to be able to write. My thoughts are sometimes disjointed. My memories come in spurts and out of order. Writing them down helps me to heal and helps me to hang on all at once.
In time the pain of Mom’s untimely death will dim. I am most afraid of that, of her passing becoming just another commonplace event in my life. But as long as I can write down the feelings, as long as I can capture in words the emotions of the last few weeks and the coming days without her in my life, her importance in my world will continue.