Thursday, October 18, 2018
A year ago my mother died.
I remember getting the call as if it were yesterday. We had just come back from the hospital a few hours earlier. We awoke to the sound of the phone and the news on the other end.
I cannot believe that it has been a year. When my mother went into the hospital in late August, life seemed to slow to a crawl. Days were taken up with work and nights with visits to the hospital, sometimes until the next morning.
But after she passed, it's like life hit the fast-forward button and now here I am a year later.
I knew this day was coming, but I was not prepared for how I was going to feel. I knew I would be sad, but that isn't what surprised me.
While my mom was in the hospital, I was consumed with an overwhelming sense of anger. To understand, I am not an angry person. My ire tends to be focused towards silly little annoyances, like not being able to plug in something to the USB port because its upside-down. But while she was sick, I seethed. I burned. I raged. I hope I did not take it out on anyone. But inside I felt the desire to punch someone, anyone, to release what I was feeling.
After my mom passed, that anger was replaced with an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. My mother's last few weeks were sad and painful and there was very little I could do to relieve her of that burden.
But when the one year anniversary came around, I found myself once again filled with a blistering violence in my heart. It took me longer than it should have to put two and two together and figure out why I felt as I did. But once I remembered the last time I felt that feeling, God's tranquil peace began to fill me.
Throughout it all, my wife has been the most amazing comfort. After we received the phone call, we wept and prayed together. And at some point, I turned to her and said, "I'm so sorry that this happened on your birthday."
From this point going forward, one of my favorite days will be combined with one of my saddest days. And of course my wife has been the model of charitable humility. As we approached this day, all of her focus has been on my mom and not on herself.
We think about my mom often. And when we do, she lets her tears flow freely. I never want to see my wife sad. But it is a strange thing I feel when I see her cry over my mom. I feel sadness at our mutual loss. But I am filled with a strange kind of peace and happiness when I witness her sorrow. The reason is that it gives me comfort to know that my mom was so loved and that she is still loved.
My mom loved my wife. Tension between in-laws is common. But my mom reminded me over and over again how blessed I was to have found my wife. And when my mom would come and visit our home, my wife would greet her warmly and with a fresh cup of coffee that would always delight my mom. Whenever my wife could come to the hospital, my mother would perk up. That is because she knew she was in the presence of someone who loved her. And we love her still. Those of us who were with her through to the end still carry the battle scars in our hearts. Those months were the worst of my life. And I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.
When I was a teenager, my grandmother had a stroke that left her mentally impaired. She could not talk and did not seem to be aware of anyone around her. Nevertheless, my grandfather would see her as often as he could in the nursing home. He would put on his best suit, comb his thinned, white hair as best he could and he would sit by her side for hours, even though she didn't know he was there. He did that because when you love someone you don't care about anything else except being there for them. That was the lesson he taught me.
Those of us who learned that lesson took all of the time we could and gave it to my mom for as long as we could. Often she didn't know we were there. Because we loved her and we wanted to be there for her.
As I said, when she passed the anger passed with her. I think it was because I knew that she was free from all of the worry, the pain, and the anguish that she carried with her for so much of her life. As sad as I am to be without her, I never want that pain to ever completely leave. In some ways, I'm glad that, like my wife and others, my heart is still broken over her. I think its because our hearts break in proportion to the love they held.
But in that sadness there is that peace. And it is because our faith tells us that she isn't dead. Life on this earth isn't real life. Real life hasn't begun yet. This world is the universal womb from which our embryonic souls are tested and made worthy in the crucible of our earthly crosses. And then one day what we perceive of as death is really a birth into eternal life, into real life.
So this year as the anniversary arrived I reminded myself of this truth: on this day, I celebrate two birthdays.
I love you, mom.