There have been many times I’ve sat to write this blog about the incredible, unfathomable pain and grief I’ve experienced over the past 19 years, but until now, it’s been an impossibility.
Loss and grief have been a daily diet for me for almost 19 years. It began just before midnight on April 12, 1999, when I received that fateful call. You see the date and time are forever stamped in my brain. Moments like those are truly never erased. They are the anniversaries of our pain.
As the spring approaches, I’m always taken back to that night in Florida, while attending a business convention, when I received a call from my sister.
“Mom’s been rushed to the hospital. We’re not sure she’s going to make it. You should come back.”
Stunned. My mind stopped immediately and took me back to four months prior when my mother told us she’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. A smoker for her entire life, while we weren’t shocked, we were certainly taken aback, but being the troupers we’d learn to become, we raised our fists in the air determined to fight the disease and win. We were an infallible trio.
Our first order of business was to take my mother shopping for pajamas to wear while in the hospital. We shopped and lunched not knowing it was our last girl’s shopping trip. I can still picture the three of us on the escalator my sister and me laughing, teasing and bickering with one another with mom, of course, scolding us in her loving way.
She did wonderfully with her treatment, but ended up at back the hospital that Saturday night with some intense side effects. My sister and I looked at each other with mirrored panic in our eyes. We stood vigil beside her and breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor deemed her okay to go home. Little did we know what was coming.
Busy as always, the next week flew by, and I spoke with my mother the night before my flight on Saturday. When we hung up, I told her I loved her and I’d see her when I got back.
“I love you too, Cind.” She said.
Those were the last words she spoke to me. I am forever thankful.
I made my way to Florida and the welcome party. I had a couple of drinks and saw some old friends. It was a warm evening, and I was feeling the impending excitement of the upcoming week. Always one to retire early, I headed to my room where I found the light message blinking. It was, my sister, Dana, asking me to come home right away.
I immediately got on the phone with the airline. The next flight out was 7:30 the next morning. Although I was doing my due diligence packing and readying to go, I understood, it was the middle of the night and knew I’d be sitting at the airport for a very long time.
After many calls for help I finally found a taxi to get me to the airport. I got myself to the gate, dropped my bag and grabbed the payphone (no cellphone in 1999). I dialed my sister to tell her I was waiting for my flight. Her choked words still echo in my mind.
“She’s gone. I’m sorry, Cind. She’s gone.”
“Oh, Dane. I’m sorry.”
My heart filled with tears until I was sure it would burst. My throat closed and the tears, that would never stop, began. We sobbed together knowing our lives had been changed forever. My heart was bleeding for my sister there alone. Always her protector, I couldn’t get back to her fast enough.
After what felt like the longest flight I’ve ever taken, I was finally, at my doorstep, I realized my father was inside. He’d come to dog sit for me while I was away. My parents had divorced many years before and oddly, hadn’t seen each other for most of them, but I later found out they had seen one another at my sister’s earlier that day. My father always spoke of their last reunion with respect and love.
The next couple of days were filled with arrangements. In true form, I rose to the occasion and prepared my family to bury my mother. My sister and I hosted her wake and burial in style just as she would have liked. My mother was an incredible hostess, and I know we made her proud.
In hindsight, I think the funeral parts were easy. Forced to turn off emotion and just be present, you do the best you possibly can. Dropping last minute items at the funeral home, the director asked me if I’d like to see my mother before her wake. I agreed but was petrified to look at her that first time. When I did, I realized that I was just looking at her ‘wrapper’. She wasn’t there. Her essence was gone. At that momentI knew she was with God and it felt okay. But was it?
External Wounds Heal Easily
Life went on, my external wounds healed, and I found joy in my daily life. Each year I celebrate her on the day of her birth and the day of her passing. Those days are never missed or forgotten. However, there hasn’t been a day when she isn’t in the forefront of my mind. So much so that there have been days where I’ve not been able to move forward. The pain always so intense and fresh. That lump of tears in my throat ever-present.
There comes a time when the pain becomes too much to bear, and you can’t move forward on your own. It takes some people a while to realize this and others address it quickly. Perhaps we need to wait until the right person comes into our lives to guide us through our pain.
If you’re read my previous blogs, you know my religious upbringing and belief system. I’ve always believed there are special messengers from God who enter your life to guide you. My messenger came in the form of a theologian cyclist. This man was the son of my husband’s previous employer. We met on social media and began to connect over nature and meaningful writings.
One day I thought perhaps he could help me find a better way to pray and reflect on my pain. To put it away with permission so to speak. I think I believed it was my duty to carry the burden of my family’s grief forever.
He was open to helping me, and we set aside some quiet time to talk and pray together. It was so very simple.
There was no trick or fancy discussion. It was a matter of quieting my mind and heart and opening both to Jesus’s message. We asked a simple question of Him. To let us hear my mother’s message. What would she say to me right now? The answers were easy. They were there all along.
“Stop worrying. Enjoy your life.”
The message was it’s okay for me to rest and breathe and that I should already know what her expectation was of me.
My mind heard the message as clear as a bell, the sun broke through my window, and I felt a sense of peace. No I didn’t hear my mother’s physical voice or any higher power’s. I heard my mind, and I knew in my heart what my mother would have said to me. I realized it was hard all these years because letting go in some way felt like I was letting go of her or being untrue to her memory. In some way, my grief was my testament to her. In less than an hour’s time my heart stopped hurting and any guilt or questions I had were gone.
I knew that peaceful moment would be with me forever, but I also knew I’d slip, as humans do, and the pain would return. I reminded myself that no mother wants to see her child in pain.
And neither does our Father. My guide asked me to take a moment and think about a time in my life when I felt God’s absolute love in my personal faith. While I’ve experienced many divine moments, I found myself thinking back to one specific time last summer.
Our family dog had become ill, and we weren’t sure about the outcome. One day our pup turned the corner, and I found myself standing on the edge of my dock looking out to the water. I felt that same peace and knew intuitively that my dog would be fine. It was because of something much greater than me and my world. I felt it. My guide described that as a 5-bar moment.
Five-bar moments are those you experience when you feel God’s love in its purest form. When your faith is absolute. He suggested when I feel lost, afraid, or that familiar pain, I take myself back to that 5-bar moment and revel in His peace and love. Those are the moments you relinquish control and just trust.
I came to realize that my mother was truly the only person who I unequivocally trusted, and since her passing so many years ago, I’ve perceived I was alone. But mothers never leave their children abandoned, do they. My mother was no different. Shortly after my mother passed I met and fell in love with my husband. I’ve often described him as sent by her.
He is a human being who has a depth of understanding of me that far exceeds that of anyone I’ve met before. His love is encompassing, strong, compassionate and selfless. He’s is everything to me, and I sometimes wonder if he realizes that mom handed him the baton of my life and that he is now my trusted companion.
I walked away feeling blessed and at peace knowing I wasn’t alone, and it was okay to have wonderful memories without the pain. I find now that even when I shed a tear or two, I end up with a happy memory and a smile. I see and feel her in my heart in a different way.
In the presence of love, we let go naturally because we are being held by love. God’s love.
This is dedicated to my mother and heart, Jo, my sister, Dana for her loss, others who have lost their mothers and to my husband who will take me the rest of the way with his love and grace.
Gratitude to our Lord for my guide, C.S.