My Mother passed away one year ago. I use the term “passed away” very purposefully since her death seemed almost anti-climactic. There was no shudder. No gasp. No dramatic oration, declaring her willingness to go into that goodnight. I saw her last breath and waited for the next which never came. It was 7:02pm and we watched her in disbelief. How could someone so loud and big spirited leave this reality so peacefully?
It was just the beginning of the surreal experience of living life without my Mother’s tether of love. Like a cellular umbilical cord, I spoke with my Mom every day. I was a woman with children of my own who had to check in with her Mommy on a daily basis. Even being over 40 didn’t change anything. It wasn’t for the purpose of being nosy or to control, she just wanted to know that I was alright. One year later, I still think of calling her to tell her that I am safe and sound at home. I miss that.
One thing that was apparent after her passing was that she touched the lives of many people. A normal life may effect some folks but my Mom changed the lives and destinies of entire families. Many people reached out after her passing and shared stories of how Mom helped them out of Cuba or Spain. How my Mom helped them become citizens and gave them a job or simply brought them food. My Mother was not an attorney or a case manager. She did these things out of a sense of duty. She did this because of a sense of compassion. Even months before she passed, she was still visiting the Rehab center where her Mother had lived her last days to entertain the seniors. She would bring them cookies and would gift the old folks her eyeglass holders (the same ones she would tell me to buy her in bulk). She gave everything she had and left none for herself.
Please do not think my Mom was Mother Teresa. I often think about our relationship and how it evolved over the years. As I grew up, she tried so hard to maintain that Scary Mommy façade. Unfortunately for her, as I grew up I realized that she was not as scary as she was scared. I realized she was not rough or tough but was dealing with life like it was a big bear- she made loud noises and tried to look bigger than her teeny frame really was. She loved with a ferocity that the emotionally stunted feared and the love starved prayed for. By the same token, she could cut off a person so suddenly that it would feel like an amputation.
My Mom did not bake cookies. My Mom did not help us with homework. My Mom was not the sweet old lady she became as a Grandmother. I didn’t know that lady growing up. My Mom was tough, rough, inappropriate, funny, mischievous and often over the top and dramatic. As our Mom, she was busy and always moving fast. She did everything quickly and efficiently. It is no wonder that she died the way she did. You can only burn so bright for so long without exhausting yourself.
I recently found myself, one year after that last breath, still waiting for her to inhale deeply. It is becoming clear that, as my youngest thought, she is not going to pop out and yell “surprise”. I will always carry a sense of denial about her death. It isn’t an unhealthy abjuration of reality but a sense of knowing that she is not really gone. I know she is with me as she is with my siblings. No need to make a call or send up a prayer because she is around all of us.
I miss her more now than a year ago. Grief may have a beginning but it does not have a clear end. You do not conquer grief and come out the other end unaffected. Grief molds you. Grief teaches you that those annoying daily calls were an act of love. Grief teaches you that loss can either weaken you or empower you. Learning to live without checking in with my Mom has taught me to check in with myself. I needed to become my own cheerleader. I no longer allow a setback to dictate my mood because my Mom is not there to tell me everything will be OK. Her final gift to me was to teach me that I must be giving but I need to remember to always save some for myself.