November 23, 2019, was the most difficult day of my life. My mother, Sandra, passed away. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. My mother had been my best friend. We talked every day. Monday through Saturday we facetimed at 6:30 in the morning; on Sunday I would facetime with her after church. We had spent years dealing with the trauma of my childhood and had come to a beautiful place of healing, joy, and divine reconciliation. I had forgiven her, and in turn could forgive myself for what I had put my own children through as I carried our collective, familial trauma into their lives. There wasn’t a time that we didn’t laugh or say, “I love you,” during those calls. I told her often; I wanted her to know, without a doubt, just how much she meant to me.
As I sat in the waiting room of the ICU waiting for the last procedure to strengthen her heart and return her to me, a nurse came out and said, “Ms. Christy, come with me, your mother is actively dying.” I couldn’t believe my ears. The blood circulating through my body, my heart had turned to sludge. Although adrenaline was rushing, my heart could not keep pace and a heaviness fell in around my chest. I followed the nurse to my mother's bedside, and looked up at the numbers that were recording the pace at which my mother’s life force was leaving her body. I approached her, and took her hand, rubbing her brow. I didn’t beg her to stay. I had already done that, but I could not believe things were coming to an end within moments--that I would never speak with her again or laugh with her again, or hear her say, "I love you Leena." My senses could not hold the intensity of the void her absence would leave in my life. I spoke to her. I thanked her. I told her I loved her, and I wept, quietly.
Within minutes the doctor walked up behind me, rubbed my back and said, “I’m so sorry. Your mother is gone.” In the moment I resented his calm demeanor, his comforting touch. I wanted him, a stranger, to fall into my grief with me; to take a portion of the pain that was consuming my heart. I looked up at the machines, they had been turned off. The team was standing at the foot of her bed, watching us, observing death again, perhaps in their own way holding vigil. I turned back to her and laid my face against hers. I whispered “No Mama. No. No. No. I can’t do this without you. Mama? Mama? Noooo…” She didn’t answer. Death had come, and she had been released. I walked out.
I returned to her home to settle in for the night, but I could barely enter her house knowing that she would never greet me again, that it would never be the refuge it had once been. I struggled with the thought of her lying beneath a white sheet in some cold, indiscriminate space within the hospital morgue. I knew she was no longer with her body, but my grief had not yet freed my mind to separate the two. I sat on the edge of her bed, grief and unbelief settling in my body. I grabbed her nightgown that hung on her bedroom door and cried myself to sleep, wrapped in the scent of my mother.
One of the ways my grief manifested was in wanting to wear, touch, and hold what had been close to my mother’s physical body, as well as her heart. Since her passing I have carried the same bag she told me to use to bring her toiletries to the hospital. I also have a purple teddy bear that was on her bed for as many years as I can remember, as well as a crocheted cross that she used to mark her place in her Bible. I knew she touched those items every day, and I wanted to do the same. I have also worn her jewelry every day since the day it was given to me. That is until last week. Last week I was gifted with a necklace from someone I love, and I wanted to wear it. As I reached for the clasp I realized I had never taken my mother’s necklace off since November 26, 2019. I hesitated. My hands released the clasp, and momentarily found their way back to my side. I looked at myself in the mirror, and took my mother’s necklace off.
Several days later I received an email from the attorney who is handling my mother’s estate, and after all this time they are prepared to put her house on the market, but first they offered me the chance to purchase it. I sat back in my chair, stunned by the intensity of emotion that shook me to my core. I wasn’t prepared. I don’t want to purchase her home because I never intend on living there, and neither do my siblings, but I did not want to let it go. Letting her house go is like being forced to acknowledge her death again; it meant releasing something else that defined my life with her. If I sell her house, she can never return to it. This sounds insane, but those were the irrational musings of my heart.
I have since decided to sell my mother’s home, and I’ve also dealt with the simple truth that the strap on my mother’s bag will one day snap. Other people who love me will buy me beautiful things and I will want to adorn my body, my life with their gifts. I now can release in life what my mother released in death. It is good for my heart, my mind to acknowledge the nuances of my grief and how it has manifested in my life. This is important work, not only for my own sanity, but in allowing me to walk with others as they live, love, and grieve. I love my mother dearly, and often my heart still aches as strongly as it did those many moments ago when she slipped beyond the veil, but I don’t have to hold her things in grief. As her daughter, a flower from the garden of her life, I am the thing she held most dear. I am her legacy. I was the center of her joy, not her favorite purse, her purple teddy bear, necklace, or even her home.
She loved me, and I loved her and that is all I will ever need…
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