It still feels like she’ll come back some days, like it’s all just a bad dream that I’ll eventually wake up from. Two years today without her? How can that be? I keep thinking that surely I’m going to summit Mt. Grief and start the trek down the backside, coasting rather than struggling for breath. Unfortunately, false summits are common on this peak and I’m just not there yet. But do we ever really “get there” when the love is this intense? As she once said in something she wrote for St. Luke’s about losing a loved one, “All love holds the potential for suffering because of death….The deeper the love, the deeper the pain…It is my belief that where there is love, relationships are unbreakable. I could not bear letting go if I did not believe that.”
Thankfully, I see glimpses of her in my children and it’s proof that she does in fact still live on and the relationship is unbreakable, even in the youngest of those she loved. Lou made me a card last night that said, “I will always have a smile of Mimi in my head.” One of Buddy’s teachers at his homeschool co-op says a prayer each week with the class and asks if they have someone special they would like to include in the prayer. Buddy asked me today if it was still a secret if Aunt Molly was pregnant. When I told him, “No, it was okay for everyone to know she was pregnant” he replied, “Oh good, because I told Ms. Martha that I wanted to pray for her because her baby died.” They didn’t have her in their lives nearly long enough but her influence was strong.
After she died, I wrote a eulogy for her service. I wanted someone from our family to speak about her yet I knew we were all too fragile to actually follow through with the task. In retrospect, I wish I had done it, whether I fell apart or not. She would have done it and she did for her own father’s service. It will be a life regret for me–not because what I wrote was any better than what someone else in our family would have said, but because it would have been a small way to honor a woman who would have done anything for her children. I should have had the courage and I shamefully tuck my tail now at my weakness. I share those words on this blog tonight, because in some tiny way it gives me solace, to know that even if I didn’t “rise to the occasion” that day, I can and will continue to talk about my mother/best friend/life force until my own dying day.
Tribute to Mama
Now that I am a mother myself, I can more fully appreciate the magnitude of Mama’s mothering prowess.Every time she made a trip to Waynesville since her grandchildren were born, she would say at some point during the visit “I don’t know how you all have the energy to do this.”My rebuttal was the same every time—I didn’t know how she not only did with 2 ½ times more children I have but how she did it without ending up in an insane asylum.Because let me tell you, if there is one consistent theme to our childhood, it is chaos and commotion 24/7.And the most amazing part to me is that after raising this entire litter of children, when she finally had the chance to relax, the last thing she wanted to do was take time for herself—her greatest desire was to be an integral part of our lives and she made sure we didn’t lose sight of that motive.The invention of the cell phone was like a dream come true for her—she could not only zip around Atlanta all day tending to the masses, but she knew Aunt Anda, Grandmother, Daddy and any of the 5 kids were merely the touch of a few buttons away.And forget about setting up speed dial with any of us—she felt it was a good mental exercise by having to dial the numbers manually.But you have to keep in mind that she was dialing these numbers at the same time she was shifting gears in her Civic, drinking her beloved “Rooster Booster” mixed with coke from a Quick Trip gas station with a coffee stirrer straw to make it last longer, and most likely fumbling around in her purse for her sunglasses as well.
Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t have had it any other way than to have her so closely connected to us so every day.I don’t think the umbilical cord was ever fully severed for any of us and maybe that’s why we all feel like a little piece of our own self has passed with her.She had unique relationships with each one of us yet we all felt like her favorite—well, okay, if I’m going to be honest, we may have felt like her favorite but who are we kidding, Hayes held the key to her heart!
And with all these siblings running around, it was hard to ever spend time with Mama by yourself, and when you got her alone, I’m sure you can imagine the kind of one-on-one attention you received. But she wasn’t the type of mother who doted on us or pampered us—she was more interested in building a relationship, a trust. She was like water continuously running over rock in a stream—a constant companion, slowly but surely molding and shaping us while smoothing our rough edges.
One of my earliest and most vivid memories of her is when I was home sick from school for several days.One night, she allowed me to stay on the couch after all my siblings were put to bed while she watched a movie beside me in her rocking chair.I remember waking up repeatedly, it being a restless sleep because I felt so lousy. I distinctly remember looking beside me each time I woke up to make sure she was still there, keeping vigil by my side.Of course she was there–she was always there when we needed her and even when we thought we didn’t.She was our “go to” person—you know, that person you immediately want to go to when something good or bad happens in your life.The sure thing.She made sure she was available to us at all times, her protective wings never tiring.
My cousin, Noel, described her as his moral compass.I think whenever any of us was faced with a question of ethics or morals, instead of calling on the popular adage of “What would Jesus do,” ours was the question of “What would Mama do?”You couldn’t go wrong.The problem was, living up to what she would do sometimes meant taking the more difficult route, to be the bigger person, to let go of our own egos and agendas and walk a more humble and selfless path.Yet no matter what our decision, she was still there, ready to either pat you on the back for taking the high road or ready to help you figure out how to dig yourself out if you dug the hole even deeper.Never judging, only believing in the potential of all of us to do the right thing.Your problem became her problem and to hold your hand in the darkness and together find the light was what sustained her.
I was with Mama when she was first diagnosed with cancer.The fear, grief, and love that emanated from her as we embraced and wept together are emotions I will carry to my own grave.She told me she wasn’t afraid of dying but she couldn’t stand the thought of leaving all of us.She simply wasn’t finished.And so began the “dark night of her soul” as she referred to it. But what I hope she realized also happened in the 15 months to follow was an awakening of her soul.While she could never let go completely of the rest of the world’s suffering, she was able to finally, for probably the first time in her entire life, indulge in some of her own desires rather than putting everyone else first.It was hard to ignore the elephant in the room at any given time during her illness, but she simply put a leash on him and drug him along for the ride.Never, ever acknowledging to us and possibly even herself that she would probably die from cancer much sooner than any of us wanted, she chose to live as fully as she could with whatever time she had left.Grit and determination were two words I used to describe her on a regular basis.
I traveled to London with her to visit Hayes this past October, and there was a comedy of errors at the airport the night we were to leave and my pass privileges with Delta were put on hold until business hours the next morning.I had done all the logistical planning for this trip and Mama didn’t have the first clue what to do once the plane landed in England.I quickly debriefed her before it was too late for her to board, but she kept saying she didn’t want to go without me, both of us in tears by this point.I knew she would be fine once she arrived and was settled, especially when it meant the difference in spending one extra day with Hayes.When I finally convinced her to leave without me, assuring her I would straighten out the mix up with my ticket and be on a flight the next day, she reluctantly and sadly headed towards the security checkpoint.She arrived in London alone and by God, she not only took her suitcase and bags to the hotel but she somehow got mine there too. Grit and determination—see what I mean?I have reflected on this experience often this week. Despite her near comatose state before she died, I am sure on some level in her beautiful mind she was still scared to go on without us, afraid of making the leap by herself, deeply saddened by what she was leaving behind.But when her body made the final decision for her and she had no choice but to travel on without us, I hope, like London, she realized she could do it just fine by herself, that there would be someone she loves on the other side waiting for her, and the rest of us who love her so dearly would follow her path into the light in our own time.
I am a mom to three amazing kids, a wife to the love of my life, a veterinarian, a member of my county's search and rescue team, a burgeoning naturalist, and an active adventurer whose second home is in the Great Outdoors. Read More…