It was Oct. 26, a perfect fall morning in Maryland, just days before Hurricane Sandy hit.
I knew my mother was going to die, and I thought I was prepared. But there is no blunting a loss so profound.
For the past year and a half I talked a good game, right? I accepted that cancer was going to take her. But my mom was a pragmatic person and stayed steeped in gratitude. She never denied any of it, and encouraged us to face it with dignity. And humor. The last time I saw the mom I knew, she engaged in a “Farewell to Food” tour and ran us all over town in search of exotic Brie and organic peach smoothies fashioned by Quakers. It makes me smile now.
For months, I traveled back to my hometown in Maryland to be with her many times, leaving behind my young family. And I felt torn constantly. But I stitched my threads in the circle of life as I cared for her needs as she’d done for me. I winced to see her bright countenance fade into a shadow of her former self. It hurt.
So I thought I’d feel relieved when she finally went home to the Lord. But it’s not exactly how I’d describe it. The journey through grief means something different for each of us.
Initially I felt shock and disbelief. For days afterward I forced myself to eat; nights were long. I stared at the aisles in the grocery store and couldn’t remember why I was there. I prayed for God to replace the image of her lifeless body with a picture of the woman I’d known as a kid, her dancing in our living room, an embarrassment back then.
Funny — how life seemed to hum right along even as I reeled. I had little patience for dirty laundry or squabbling siblings or the empty fridge (thank God for friends who delivered food). I still feel raw. Numb. Overwhelmed. Vulnerable.
This week, my appetites are slowly opening. And the “what if’s” are launching their torments. Why hadn’t I asked her more questions about her childhood? Why didn’t I ask her advice on how to get over her death? She was such a warrior — so brave. Why hadn’t I seen it was perhaps a façade? A way to protect me, like mothers do?
We don’t talk much about death and dying. The truth is — death is a poignant time. But it can be scary. In the weeks preceding my mother’s passing, I prayed I would make across the country in time to be with her in those final moments, and that her passing would be quick and merciful. And that was exactly how it happened. But she left the world when I’d fallen asleep by her side — and I mourned the vision of how I thought things would happen.
I couldn’t control her exit from earth anymore than I could control my babies’ arrivals here.
Like birth, death is a mystery. I was powerless in its wake — and suddenly Psalm 23 held new meaning. I’ve stood witness to the valley of the shadow of death, and the words of scripture came to my mouth to comfort both my mother — and me. The good news? Grief will not rob my trust in God’s promises. I seek and cling to the peace that passes all understanding. And I rejoice (well, I’m trying to…) in knowing my mother is tucked in the Lord’s embrace.
And yet, I ache. I miss her. I was told my experience makes me uniquely qualified to help others facing loss. I’m called to channel this pain into something good — to use my newfound insight to lift up someone else as He lifted me.
I’m simply waiting for the opportunity to be revealed. Until then, Mama — there will never be another you. But I’m so glad you were mine for a time.
• Diane Meehl is a freelance writer and longtime Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She and her family worship at Mountain View Lutheran Church; and she promises to get her groove back by the next column. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.