My mom died six years ago today. It was a Monday. It was chilly outside and the sun was trying to peek out from behind mostly cloudy skies. I know because I was looking to the heavens a lot that day. Her death wasn’t expected, but neither was it a complete surprise. She went into the hospital a healthy woman with a minor case of Pancreatitis, which she suffered and recovered from a couple times previously, and two months later she was gone. There were infections, multiple surgeries, breathing problems, kidney failure, and a long list of other complications that led ultimately to a coma. In the end it reached a point where it became a family choice to discontinue the life saving measures that were keeping her alive and prolonging her suffering. When she slipped the bonds of her tortured body and moved on to her next journey, I wasn’t in the room. I couldn’t. She was 69 years young.
A few days later, just prior to her funeral, I was alone in the basement of my parents home when my Dad came to me. He had a question for me. He wanted to know if I would say something during the service. I had already been contemplating the notion, so I agreed without hesitation. My dad appeared relieved and I realized he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up in front of our friends and family due to the emotion of the day. He knew that even as shy and withdrawn as I am, through my work I had experience communicating at group functions. It was important to him, and me, that somebody who knew her well speak for her at the service.
Even though my parents weren’t regular church goers, my mother was raised Methodist and the services were held at a quaint little church not too far from where they lived. The two of them had only lived in Loganville, on the outskirts of Atlanta, going on ten years but you wouldn’t have known it from the number of people who made it to the funeral. Family and friends overwhelmed that poor little church. Fortunately they found a seat for everybody who wanted one.
The main service was performed by a priest I had only met that day, and that my mother had never met. It was fairly generic, as only it could be, until he asked if there was anybody who wished to offer a few words. I stood up, nervously stepped to the podium and looked out over the gathering. A rush of panic momentarily seized me, constricting my vocal cords and raising the temperature in the room to 120 F. Then I locked eyes on my dad, and calmness settled over me, driving out the uncertainty. I was ready.
Although what follows isn’t word for word what I said back then, it’s pretty close.
“When Dad asked me if I wanted to speak here today I immediately said yes, but then I had a couple of days to think about what it was I wanted to say. The more I kept trying to think of things to say that could best exemplify who Mom was, the more this one particular question kept popping into my head. Before long that question was all I could think about. It tormented me day and night. Then the answer came to me and part of it is actually one of the reasons I’m standing here now. I also realized that a lot of you may be asking yourself the same question. I hope I can help answer it for you.
First I want to tell you of two memories of my Mom that I keep not in my head, but in my heart. They represent who she was to me and to a lot of you as well. The first one took place when I was just 7 or 8 years old and we were living in military housing at Quantico Virginia. For some reason I was in a different school system than my two brothers, which meant I had to take a separate school bus. This really terrified me, but I never let on to anybody. One morning my brothers were already gone off to school and I was dragging my feet getting ready, feeling especially alone that day, and mom asked me what was wrong. I can still see her standing there in her white housecoat that was three inches too long and dragged on the carpet wherever she walked. Of course I said nothing, but she must have known something wasn’t right. She asked me if I wanted to take the day off. The DAY OFF? You can do that, I asked her. We sure can, what do you want to do first? We never left the house that day. She made me pancakes, we played game after game, she watched cartoons with me, it was great. It was one of the best days ever, and it came at just the right time. And she knew it without me even saying a word.
The second story occurred years later when I was a sophomore in college. I had just broken up with what was my first serious girlfriend and I had crawled home to lick my wounds. Of course I didn’t come out with it right away, but Mom again knew something was wrong. Eventually she got me to open up and I cried my eyes out to her. The whole time she was calm and soothing, letting me just spill my guts out. After a while I felt much better, so she informed me that she needed to run into town to pick up some groceries. I didn’t find this out until much later, but when she left the house she drove to the first gas station on the way and called Dad at work from a pay phone and cried her eyes out to him over the phone. She didn’t want me to see what my pain was doing to her.
That’s the way Mom was, and I think that’s why Dad asked me to speak to you today. My Mother was not an emotional person on the outside. It was hard to tell where you stood with her sometimes. Everything with her ran very deep, with very little showing on the surface. But she always knew when you were down or needed a little extra attention. She was very in tune to peoples feelings, even though she didn’t demonstrate much of that herself. And I’m the same way. Of all us in this family, I’m the one who is most like her.
That is why I figured out the answer to the question that was upsetting me, because I’m like my Mom, and she was like me.
And what was that question? It was…Did she know? When she left us, did she know how much I loved her, how much we all loved her and will now miss her? Did I tell her enough? Did I show her enough?
I can tell you now that the answer is yes. She may not have been the hugging, kissing, or fussing type, in fact that may have made her uncomfortable, but she knew how we felt just the same. Just as I would.
She knew we loved her, and will miss her terribly. Goodbye, mom.
A parent’s passing is a loss that cracks your very foundation and makes you question your every step. I feel cheated that now that I’m a father with older children of my own, and I’m really starting to appreciate what it truly means to raise a child, that I won’t have her here with me so that I can thank her all the more. But writing this blog helps me keep her alive in my thoughts.
I appreciate your patience with me as I remember her again this year.
I miss you Mom!