My mother was born on August 22, 1931. She was my beautiful, love-illuminating mother for almost 58 years until her death last year. She spent her life loving and laughing and playing and working and bringing joy to everyone who knew her. As many of you know, she spent the last year of her life stumbling around in the rubble of her collapsing brain before she found her way home to our great God.
The time I spent walking with my mother towards the end of her life was the most difficult time of my life. When she died, I was sad to my essence. Every cell in my body mourned her. I was also relieved that she had finally escaped that half-world where everything she knew was disintegrating around her.
When she died, I had to look for a new way to live. Learning how to grow towards my joy after keeping vigil at the edge of her darkness for over a year has been difficult. For the most part, I’ve done pretty well. I think that is largely due to the huge amount of anticipatory grief I processed during my mother’s illness. Still, there is so much I am missing in this world without my mother.
The hardest part of mourning for me has been my fear that I would never remember my happy times with my mother when she was as she was in what I refer to as her “real life.” Yes, my brain could remember those warm, loving, joyful, funny memories. I could even point towards times during her illness that brought me deep peace, love, and happiness. The scary part was that it was only my brain that could remember. My heart couldn’t seem to connect with those times anymore. I could tell those memories to someone else, but it always felt like I was talking about something I read or about someone else’s memories. I couldn’t feel those happy moments anymore. Before my mother’s illness, I could deftly enter my brain’s library and find a richly beautifully shelved memory. I could re-live that moment and actually feel all the same feelings again. After my mom’s stroke, all the happy memories seemed to be cloaked with the heavy, uncomfortable, dark sadness. I couldn’t struggle my way out from under that cloak and refeel the happiness.
The hospice grief counselor assured me that the time would come when I would be able to connect with those jewels of joy again. I was skeptical, but it turns out she was correct. It happened for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I was in my car backing out of the garage. Max was waving good-bye to me. He made some funny, exaggerated motions with his hands and, immediately, I was brought back to a time when I was a teenager. My mother came into my bedroom to wake me. She began singing:
The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.
The Lord told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y.
He made it of hickory barky, barky… children of the Lord.
So, rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.
Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory.
Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory. Children of the Lord!”
She sang at the top of her lungs and her performance came complete with jazz hands, which is why Max’s motion triggered the memory. I physically felt my mood soar. I began to giggle. I know my whole face beamed.
That wasn’t my last “re-feeling” moment. They are coming back to me spontaneously, like beautiful little surprises. I think my mother is sending them from Heaven.
I was thinking about how much I enjoyed teaching leadership classes when I was working. I remembered the year I won my employer’s highest award for training. I was going to Washington DC to accept the award and participate in a videoconference about teaching techniques. I asked my mother if she wanted to go, even though I knew she probably wasn’t physically up to the trip. She asked if all the other award winners would have guests with them because she “would crawl there on her knees before she would let me be the only one there alone.” She had my back, every day in every way.
I saw something the other day that mentioned how many weekends were left before Christmas and remembered my mother’s intense adoration of all things holiday. I could feel her contagious excitement in the pit of my stomach. I was watching “Countdown to Christmas” on QVC the other day and I kept wanting to text her when I saw something cute.
That’s the thing, though. I am thrilled to find these joy jewels coming back to me. I love being able to relive the emotions. I feel love. I feel pride. I feel fulfillment. I feel silliness. I feel nurtured. I feel mothered. On the other hand, just as suddenly as these waves of warm, joyful, happy feelings crest, they crash down on the reality that there will be no new moments like those to remember.
I am happy that my mother is living a new, joyful, eternal life in Heaven. I am happy that she is waiting there to share it with me when my turn comes. I am also happy that my heart is now receiving glimpses of all the good she lavished on me in our life together. I know she is no longer with me in my world, but she will always be with me in my life.
Yes, these heart memories and the wistfulness that follows them remind me that I have a hole in my heart that will always be empty. Still, I’d rather feel that hole in my heart than not feel my heart at all.
What are some of your favorite memories of a lost loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a joyful day!