Twenty five years ago today my mother died just three days before her 66th birthday. She had been in a coma for thirteen days after suffering a major stroke in the brain stem. She died immersed in love, with her husband, her two daughters, and her only sister at her bedside.
I was thirty seven at the time. My daughter was twelve. I wasn’t ready. But, that is the way of life isn’t it. Death comes as the ultimate party crasher, changing the landscape of the heart forever.
As I sit here this morning, remembering that morning so long ago, I remember feeling the presence of God so strongly. No one would ever be able to convince me that I did not see her spirit rise as she took her last breath. There was such a peace. Such a release. And, in the days to come there was such a fatigue. The likes of which I had never experienced before.
I never heard much about the grieving process at that time. The way it affects you physically. It’s true though. I remember when a friend of mine lost her son. We were talking one night a couple of weeks later and she held her hand on her stomach and told me it hurt. That she just wished the pain in her gut would go away. Grief is a forceful reminder our body of soil and our heart of spirit are one, try as we might to separate them from one another.
My mother experienced joy in her life, but she also experienced grief. Long before I was born she endured what had to be excruciating. At full term pregnancy she gave birth to a baby boy who was stillborn. This was a long time ago and they didn’t have the same medical knowledge that is available now. Although these tragedies still happen today. To make things worse, there was a callousness, probably out of ignorance I suppose, at work against her. She was put in the room with another patient. A mother who had given birth to a healthy baby. When my mother awoke to the sound of a crying infant and asked if the baby were hers she was told no and informed her baby had died. It’s chilling to think of this even today.
I don’t think my mother ever fully recovered from her loss. At that time there was no one to guide her through. To tell her she must attend to her grief. To even acknowledge that her loss was worthy of grief. She went on to have several more failed pregnancies before having me. She almost miscarried me but by that time there was a medication given to prevent the miscarry from going forth. It did its job so well I was a month overdue when I was born. Which I think justifies my tendency to run a little late. I couldn’t replace the baby boy she lost, but I was loved. And spoiled.
My mother tried hard to move on. She kept an immaculate house. Was an excellent cook. Gifted decorator. Exquisite seamstress. Voracious reader. Winning card player. Agile dancer. Impeccable dresser. And, she could stretch a dollar further than anyone, balancing her checkbook to the penny ever month. As I write this I realize I haven’t balanced a check book in so long I can’t remember. Who needs a checkbook when you can look online in an instant. Things have changed a lot in twenty five years.
My mother was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. And, she loved my dad, sister, and me with everything she had.
Yes, for all practical purposes, it would appear that she moved on in life just fine. But the truth is her body paid the price for her heartbreak. For as long as I could remember she struggled with one illness or body pain after another. Frequently there would be a worried hush over the family that this time it was something serious. Something deadly. She had surgery after surgery as one thing or another failed her, and I couldn’t count the times she was hospitalized. When I was in junior high and high school she developed migraines and they plagued her for ten years. My sister thought it was her. I thought it was me. Maybe it was hormones. Thinking back, I think it was her broken heart screaming for attention.
Eventually she succumbed to high blood pressure. One can only deny grief for so long before it explodes. It gives me great comfort to imagine the baby boy she lost so many years before greeting her as we said our goodby. I’m convinced that’s why her death felt like such a peaceful passing. Such a sweet and final healing.
Grief. A necessary, yet difficult part of life. An intrusion that demands its due. I think I’lll spend some time today tending to mine.
Something to chew on….