Death has no mercy and grief no timetable.
Two years ago I was on the cusp of what I felt was “soaring.”
I was loosing weight. I felt healthy. I was eating right. I was transitioning a business my husband and I built from the ground up over to our son, which in turn was giving me more time to myself to pursue my own life’s passion, photography. Every day that I woke, I felt like a spring bud just ready to burst. After all, great things were happening. Every morning, I began my day with Alicia Keys, “This girl is on fire.” It was my motivational. My attitude adjustment. My way to begin.
Saturday morning, April 13, 2013, the windows were open, the birds were literally screaming with delight, the sun bore down with what promised to be an awesome spring day and a day of “getting things done.” I had been to a yard sale early that morning and bought a chair for mom to sit in for our upcoming family portrait on May 5. All of mom’s children were going to be in town at the same time and we wanted to get a really nice family portrait. When I bought it, I wasn’t able to fit it in my car… since I knew the family I bought it from, they assured me it was safe, and they would be driving by my house later that day, and they would just drop it off for me. Sweet!
I hung up the phone from a lawnmower parts supplier after confirming they had the part we needed and prepared to get ready to leave. The first phone call came from my cousins phone and I missed it. The second came from my sister, Gail’s in the Outer Banks. Knowing that my parents were visiting, this gave cause for concern. As I stood there looking out my kitchen window at the cherry blossoms in full reveille, the words that came through my phone from my niece were incomprehensible to me. I had to ask her to repeat, and even then they were indistinguishable, yet I knew exactly what she had said. “Grandma has had a stroke, they are flying her to Norfolk General, we are driving there.”
Just writing those words causes me to stop and have to find my own breath. We weren’t certain of the severity – after
all, she had been talking to the rescue personnel as they were helping her. Within a half hour, Tom, my husband, and I had packed a bag and began what would take us four hours to drive to Norfolk.
Two hours into our trip, I began texting my sister for updates. Surely they had heard something by then. When the caller ID showed Gail’s number I answered immediately. The words “it’s not good” and “she’s on life support” to this day, echo in my head.
We were about an hour away at this point in our travel. As I put my phone down, Tom asked for the update. As I could feel the cars speed increase even more, it would be another 20 minutes before any words could be formed.
Arriving at the hospital we began the descent from the upper level of the parking garage. The warmth of the day and the newness of the season had not had the opportunity to spill into the concrete structure which held darkness, wet and cold as hidden speakers belted out “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive by Travis Tritt. Soaking it all in I paused at the bottom of the stairs listening, only to look up with aggravation and say “Seriously God?”
Like walking through the Soul Train dance along (I’m telling my age), I passed through the sea of on lookers to get into Mom’s room. From care givers to family members who had already arrived, the numbers were growing. And there she was, sleeping. Sleeping as I have seen her sleep my entire life. Only this time, she would never wake up. My dad sat holding her hand not saying a word. A position he would hold for the next 17 hours.
As family began arriving during these next 17 hours we began to see and feel the impact of the inevitable. Our mother was dying. The glue that had so feverishly held our unit together was chipping, cracking and ultimately fading away. Upon giving mom her last rights, the local priest simply said, “the vigil is the hardest.” Sleeping on floors, chairs, gurneys; against walls, in hallways, upright in a chair holding her hand, night began to give way to morning and the last family member to arrive, did. Bittersweet knowing now the moment had come. All that could be done — had — and now it was time.
As the birds outside began to wake and start a new day, as they had just the day before, my mother of 48 years, quietly slipped away. And in the gentleness of that I could hear the metallic squeak and squeal – like that of a train breaking – the sound of the world coming to a stop. Arriving home… the chair that had been purchased the day before, sat empty in front of my garage. There would be no family photo with mom as the center. She was gone, for forever.
In the days, weeks, months that followed,change was the keyword. Life events and holidays, although on the outside were reflected, within – were no comparison. The dynamics of family and friendships changed like the ebb and tide of a body of water. What was there one minute was gone the next and new relationships were formed. Rocks that had been a solid foundation of the shoreline were now gone and other anchors had taken their place. Previous sources of comfort resurfacing. Old friends now new again.
Death has no mercy and grief no timetable.
When one mourns the death of a loved one there are no rules, and there is no timeframe in which you need to “get it done and over with.” You never “get over” having loved someone “SO much.”
When my mother died – the very first few hours I simply looked at Tom and said the best thing you can give me is patience. Please be patient with me.
When one looses someone who has had such a huge impact on their life, it’s not only the person you grieve. It’s your lifestyle. Your way of thinking. It’s your wake up. It’s your go to bed. It’s how you fold laundry. It’s the meals you cook. It’s their habits that have been passed to you. It’s new traditions, and honoring old. It’s in how other’s treat you now that someone else is not watching them. You grieve not only the loss of their life – you grieve the loss of the life you had with them in it.
Some of the worst things said when one has lost a loved one is “give it time,” “time heals all,” “in time you will feel better.”
All of these statements are in fact true. The wounds of my mother’s death and the storm of emotion that followed it are healing and the wind is subsiding. It’s taken TWO years and there are still times, moments when.. when… well, you just want your mom and no matter what – that is pretty much the only thing that will make it better. The friendships that disintegrated, or merely faded away have made way for new. Old friendships, once thought forgotten, renewed, and “family” has taken on a new meaning with my own rules of commitment.
Death changes us all.
Death has lessons that when you pause and listen, can give you a multitude of answers and open a whole host of
This life we are all living, none of us will get out of it alive. While here, we need to focus on the good. BE the love and light you wish to receive. Reflect outward what you hope to gain.
As I sit here watching the sway of the newly budding branches I eagerly await their explosion.
Life ! Beauty !
Just like April 12th, 2013. The last time I heard my mom’s voice. The day I simply sat in my backyard photographing cherry blossoms exploding and bee’s humming with delight. Just like that day, hearing the birds sing and feeling the warmth of the sun.
It’s time to get this train back on the tracks. It’s suffered the effects of derailment for far too long. I love my mom. I miss her profusely. I remind myself – I am a mother, and my children did not loose theirs, no more than I lost my own mother when my Grandmother passed away. I have reminded myself for the past two years that being “present” is of the utmost importance. And, Tom, that rock that never left the shoreline, no matter how high the tide, …. I am the luckiest woman I know to have the support and love he has shared and showed.
The one thing I can tell you though. If you have the opportunity to take those family photos. Take them. Everytime I photograph a family it brings me great JOY to know that I have been able to preserve this moment for this family. That they will have this precious heirloom.
With great anticipation, I watch the trees, waiting for rebirth and renewal. For the sounds of moving train wheels. I think I can, I know I can — Afterall. It’s a great day to be alive.