One Year Later

If you had asked me a year ago what I would be doing today, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have said I would be spending this day at another funeral.  However, that is exactly how I spent the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing.  My cousin passed away a few days ago and her funeral was scheduled for today.  When I heard of her passing, my first thought was how sad, but after that it was an immediate, please don’t let the funeral be on the 12th.  But inevitably, it was scheduled for today.  So I started to wrap my brain around the fact that a funeral was exactly how I would be spending this day.

I readied myself and my young son and made the drive to the small town I came from to once again say goodbye to a relative too soon.  I left early so I could visit my mom first.  I feel weird saying visit my mom, because I feel her around me all the time, but for whatever reason, I have appointed myself the caretaker of her grave.  I should stop and say that I have never been one to visit graves, but I feel better knowing hers is decked out in flowers and whatever holiday decor the season requires.  As I pulled into the small country cemetery, my sons yells from the back seat, “We’re going to see Nana.”  I smiled, “Yes baby, we are going to see Nana.”  I clean the gravestone and add the flags and patriotic stuff I had gotten to add to the flowers I had already left there on previous trips.  It makes me happy to know it looks nice.  It’s like an outward profession saying she’s gone, but not forgotten.  I still don’t understand this thinking, but whatever.

I leave and head to the funeral home where the funeral is taking place.  Ironically, the funeral is being held in the same place where my mom’s visitation was held before her funeral.  Gotta love small towns.  As I prepare myself to go inside I just focus on my breathing, as in, just keep breathing.  This definitely hasn’t been the easiest year.   I watch as the chapel fills with family and friends.  I listen as the preacher begins his sermon.  I busy my son with toy cars as I try to keep him quiet as we mourn around him.

It was at this point I have the strangest sensation.  As I sit there, I watch, I listen, I feel.  I realize that I am watching my cousin’s husband and her daughter go through the exact same thing I went through a year ago.  They stand at the precipice of a journey through soul breaking grieving.  Not something I would wish on anyone.  It was at this moment my eyes were opened to exactly how far I’ve come in this past year.

I have experienced every first that happens in that first year, her first birthday, my first birthday, first thanksgiving, first easter, first christmas, first mother’s day, all without her.  I know there will still be more firsts without her, but quite a few are out of the way. I look back and am not sure how I made it through, but here I am.  It’s so easy to say sorry for your loss and fade into the scenery.  It’s harder to dive in and begin to process everything that’s left behind.  There is no rule book in how to do this, you simply have to take each day as it comes and begin to discover what your new normal is.  You have to learn it’s okay to break down crying in the middle of the day because you heard a song that reminded you of her.  You learn to tell stories without crying.  You learn that it’s okay to cry when emotion hits you.  More importantly, you learn to live without your mom.  Not an easy task considering you had never once given it a passing thought until your phone rang June 10, 2016 and your sister told you your mom had one to three weeks left to live.  You were banking on three weeks and you got two days.  Not only that, you really only got one last conversation with someone you were sure would be there your entire life.   And just like that she was gone.

I am thankful it has become easier to walk each day without her.  When I hear someone bitching about their mom, I simply say, “Enjoy it.  One day she won’t be here.”  I am not trying to be harsh, but it simply was something I had never thought about before.  We are not promised tomorrow.  We have to live today.  It’s easy to say and harder yet to do.  But I’m trying.  It’s hard though.  So. Hard.

I have learned just how amazing my friends are as each of them continue to check on me, not only today, but over this past year.   I never knew there was something called a burden basket, but I received one today.  My friend sent a special package with a sky lantern in it to send my love to heaven on this anniversary of losing my mom.  I burst into tears as I opened it, but then thought what an amazing way to mark this day.  I go to bed tonight knowing I am loved.  For that I am grateful.  I will continue to grieve, as you are never the same after the loss of a parent, but each day is easier.  A year ago, I could have never imagined a day without tears, but now, there are more days without tears than days with them.  Hold your loved ones close, tell them and show them you love them for as I learned, you are not promised tomorrow.

It’s Almost Been A Year

June 10, 2016 I received a call that not only shook my foundation, but changed my life forever.  My sister called to tell me my mom had terminal cancer and at best had three weeks to live.  Nothing can prepare you for this type of news.  My mom was 62, young by today’s standards.  How could this be happening?

I immediately hopped on a plane to be by her side.  I planned to have her tell me all of her stories one last time.  I planned to ask her every question I had never thought to ask before.  I planned to paint her nails and listen to her laugh.  I had a mission.  For you see, my son was only 2 years old.  I couldn’t fathom a life where he couldn’t remember his Nana and the love she had for him.  In my mind she would be well enough for one last trip to her favorite place with all of her grandkids to DisneyWorld.  When I walked into her hospital room, I knew Disney was out of the question.

I arrived about 8pm on June 11, 2016.  I had to fly from Texas to Florida and this was the quickest option.  I breezed into the room with nail polish, her favorite robe, and a new night gown I had bought her just so she didn’t have to wear the hospital one.  We chatted until about 10 that night.  My Dad got there at 10.  I stepped out of the room to allow him some privacy.  I came back about 10:15 to find my Dad holding her hand and praying over her.  I grew up in the church, but I’m almost sure this is something I’d never seen him do before.  The nurse had come in while I was out and had given her something to help her sleep.

My mom never fully regained consciousness.  At 5am they wanted to put her on a ventilator.  The hardest thing was saying no.  But she had told us she didn’t want that.  I stayed through the night holding her hand and talking to her.  The next morning, I called her mom, her brothers, and her best friend to let them say goodbye.  I played all of her favorite music and sat at her side with a strength I didn’t know I possessed.

As life was leaving her body, I watched as her soul ascend to heaven.  A huge clap of thunder that shook the building sounded and the sky opened up with rain.  I knelt with my family as we said the Lord’s Prayer together circled around her.  As we finished, the cloud’s parted and a beam of light shone down from above, a cool breeze swept through the room and I knew definitively she had made it home.

This year has been full of firsts.  First birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, all without her.  It seems endless.  There are so many times I have wanted to call her.  To Facetime her while my son plays.  I never got those videos.  I only have stories to tell my son.  My greatest fear is that he will forget her.  I talk about her all the time to him, but I am constantly wondering if it’s enough.

As I come up on this anniversary of her passing, I wonder how I got here.  The answer is day by day.  At first, it seemed impossible to make it through a day, a week, a month.  But it turns out that all of those things add up and here we are.  I still cry at least a couple of times a week.  But that’s better than everyday, so it’s progress.  Life keeps going and moments keep happening.  It’s all in how you choose to go on that makes the difference.  I choose to live, to laugh and to love.  It’s not always easy, but the solution is to keep making the choice, keep living, keep laughing, and keep loving.