On this springtime day, so alive with light and gentle breezes, will you take a walk with me–a journey of tears and joy?
It is a misty Thursday evening; rain has fallen throughout the day. My long workday done, I close my office door behind me. I bow my head, grateful that my mind was able to focus on the cares of others throughout the day. I depart down the wide, embracing back staircase, a secret passageway of sorts, to my waiting car. There will be no yoga this evening, for I yearn to be at my mother’s side. I arrive, a stoic friend at my side, and softly kiss her sleeping face. She is especially beautiful this evening, though gray circles besmirch the delicate skin beneath her eyes. This night, I have remembered to take music with me. The quiet room is soon filled with the sweet strains of her favorite songs. “Ave Maria,” so evocative and haunting, spirals through the air. I feel my mother’s spirit with me as we gaze back in time to Latin masses in the vast arches of our cathedral in the tiny Pennsylvania town of my youth. My father at her side, she watched over her brood of ten as we spanned the length of the wooden pew. A veil upon her head and gloved fingers holding her missal, she was the epitome of feminine strength. As the music plays, tears course down my cheeks; they flow with the music, reaching to the heavens and the earthly depths. I pay my tears no mind; they seem nothing but watery, bothersome markers of my grief. I stroke my mother’s hands, her arms, her fingertips. My mother’s most beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” begins to flow through the air, and a fresh surge of tears follows. I stare at her resting face and ponder, as I often have, how much she shouldered in silent forbearance. Hers was no easy or enviable life, yet she carried on and on. I envision her quietly reading her Bible in the early morning hours, her devotion hushed and enduring. I can feel the tears coursing; mounds of soft white tissues cannot stop their flow. The melody plays on, and I watch her with intensity for a sign of recognition. Though it may be a play of my imagination, it seems that her eyes move slightly beneath her closed lids. I smile wistfully as I touch her cheekbones and stroke her forehead. As I gently run my fingers through the gray curls of her hair, I catch the slightest crescent of her green eyes. I smile deeply. It as though I have stolen a glimpse of eternity. Now, she sleeps so soundly, and I pray sleeping might allow her to wake tomorrow. One miracle. One kiss. One smile. I softly ease my arms behind her—an embrace she cannot return. Placing my head softly upon her shoulder, I find myself wondering if I have ever seen my mother cry. No, I don’t believe I ever have. Chagrined and flummoxed, I sit up slowly. I want to collect myself. Pushing back my dark hair, I look about the pale-toned room. It is foreign space, devoid of what I know. I look back to my mother; no, her essence is not here. My friend brushes tear-sodden strands of hair from my cheeks. I am my mother’s daughter again; I am strong and in control. I carefully select the next tune, one both my father and mother loved. Yes. The sweet, eternal notes of “Danny Boy” begin to warm the air. I listened to this very song for days after my father’s death last March. Now, as my mother prepares to depart, it is here again, enfolding me in its embrace. There is no escaping the tears, and they flow silently and shamelessly. Mindless of tissues, my shirt catches the stream of my pain. My head, again, is on my mother’s breast, and the music brings us closer still. The sweetest phrase calls out, “I’ll be there in sunlight or in shadow,” and I feel it echo through us both. She is with me. I no longer feel the need to dry my eyes, and the tears and sobs become me. There is power in my grief, and there is strength in my mourning. My mother–a woman of humility, grace, and strength—has raised me well.
It is now Friday evening. A stalwart friend sits by quietly; I am grateful that he has given so freely of his strength as mine has faded. My mother rests. I feel as if she has gone, yet the resting body before me is alive. I want to give to her. I want to ease her journey. There is little I can do; I feel a pulse of anger at my helplessness. I again play her most treasured songs, and their melodies fill the somber, heavy air. She is quieter this evening. She is peaceful and her breathing is more serene, yet the gray under her eyes is pronounced. I gently kiss her forehead and the arch of her cheeks. My eyes search her face, yet there is but a flutter of breath. Her lovely skin is no longer tinged with rose. An ashen cast has crept in with ominous foreboding. I do not like it, and I feel my chest constrict. There are no tears, there is only furtive pain. I gently find her hands beneath the sheets and blanket. Massaging her arms and fingers, I implore life’s energy and color to return. Her hands are warm, but she is still and softly gray. Like a young child, I hold my hands to hers. I have never done this before, and wonder why. My hands match hers almost perfectly. Like a little girl, I smile. This eternal moment is ours–mother and daughter, two as one–and I absorb its vibrant light. I can hear my father saying, “You are just like your mother. You two are exactly the same.” It was the highest compliment I could have ever gained. The songs have finished; I want more for her. I search my mind for tunes that she would want. I smile as I reminisce; I recall how Dean Martin delighted her. Within moments, my head is on her shoulder as we listen together. Smooth whispers of “For the Good Times” dance through the room. I feel memories of my father join us, too. The interlude is bittersweet, and salty tears escape down my cheeks onto the pillow. I am filled with gratitude. Wiping my eyes, I rise to gaze upon my mother. Without thinking, a flow of words pours forth. “Momma,” I find myself saying, “thank you for being my mother. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for bearing with me. Thank you for teaching me so very much about how to strive, to learn, to grow, and to be. Thank you for teaching me to clean, to sew, and to love books. Thank you for teaching me to value education, music, and hard work. Thank you for believing in me, and thank you for wanting me always to be the best I could be. Thank you for your beauty. Thank you for your grace–your amazing, enduring grace.” Expressions of my love and appreciation continue until words no longer come. Yet, my mother understands. The room is now quiet and cast in shadows, yet I can feel her smile from somewhere beyond the gray. I kiss her forehead, nose, cheeks, and lips. I kiss her for all time. “Momma,” I whisper into room, “I love you. I will see you tomorrow. God willing.”
My head is foggy this Saturday morning. Before I am able to visit, a message comes. My mother has passed. She is gone. At once, I am gray with sadness and flushed with anger; they cannot coexist for long. Seconds pass as I sit in disbelieving suspension; I break, sobbing in heavy, blackened tears. I feel no light, no love, no peace. Strong arms enfold me, and I wail, “But, I just wanted one more day, just one more smile, just one more kiss. Just one more time to hold her hands. That was all. Just one more…” Wisely and simply, he responds, “You will have always wanted one more. She was your mother.” I cry until the tears are gone, and desolation takes their place. Tears softly staining my cheeks, I drift fitfully in and out of sleep. I know that this is the first night of my life without my mother on this Earth. This day has forever changed my world.
Sunday morning, I wake and stare mindlessly for a moment toward my bedroom window. I see the greenery of trees, but I feel nothing. It is quiet. The world is somber gray. Suddenly, a hummingbird sweeps toward me and pauses, its wings fluttering madly, to peer at me. Two small brown sparrows swoop into view—escorts of a sort—and the three fly off together. My mother loved hummingbirds—symbols of abundant joy, strength, and grace—and, for a moment, I smile.
Today, it is Saturday. Days have passed in a haze of sounds and movement. It has been one week–seven days, yet seven centuries–since she passed. Already, I feel her with me, a cloak of integrity and strength. A gorgeous vintage photograph of her rests by my bed; I delight knowing her image is near. As a young woman, she was the picture of lovely grace. As a mother, she was an icon of dignity and grace. As a woman, she was my friend and mentor, an emblem of amazing grace. Today, I hear her whispering, “Go on, my girl. Be strong. Feel me live within you. And, my spirited daughter, continue to live with wondrous grace–continue to make me proud.”
My precious, exquisite mother left for lighter realms, angels at her side, on Saturday, March 31, 2012, at 4:02 p.m. I am forever in her debt, for it was she who gave me wings. In gratitude and humble respect, I am forever my mother’s daughter.