Every morning on my way to work, I ask for blessings on my mom's soul, send out prayers for loved ones and myself, and then express gratitude for everything I can think of. Yesterday morning, I was in a dejected mood but did this practice anyway. Immediately after I said, "Amen," I received a blessing. It felt like a spiritual wind embracing me (yes, while I was driving), and I was filled with an inner knowing that everything (is and) will be all right. It felt like a response to my prayers.
Is that how my mother speaks with me now? (Or some other benevolent force?)
Fall, my favorite season, has arrived in all its colorful grandeur. However, there's something about this particular fall that makes my mom's absence feel more real. Perhaps it's because summer always was her busiest time of year and the season in which we saw her the least. She was more present during fall. But on top of that, I realize from my earlier work with bereaved populations that we are heading into a challenging time of year - a two-month span that includes my parents' anniversary, both of my children's birthdays, Thanksgiving, my mom's birthday, and Christmas. My mom's absence will be felt big-time, by all of us.
In the past few weeks, I've caught traces of my mom's essence several times. It's a far cry from picking up the phone and talking with her - and even from the supra real dreams in which she has appeared. And yet, sometimes brushing up against her imprints makes me feel closer to her than ever, as if she truly does live on inside of me. As if there are no boundaries between us. Sometimes it even feels as if the qualities that were expressed through her actively seek expression through me (and others, I'm sure) now that she's moved beyond this world.
A couple weeks ago, I found her a few minutes after dropping off my son at a friend's house for the evening. Alone in the dark car, I turned on the radio and heard a song I'd only heard once before - when my dad and one of my mom's best friends from 50 years ago sang it around her deathbed two days before she passed away (after we'd belted out a few John Denver songs). The song is, "Eddie, My Love," and my dad told us she would sing it to him all the time when he was taking his time getting out of the house. I'd never heard it before but remembered enough of the lyrics to recognize it - and gasp - when it came on the radio in the car. Certain that was the song they sang around her bed, I pulled to the side of the road, took out my phone, and recorded it so I could play it when I returned home. (Interestingly, right when I took out my phone to record the song, I received a text from my sister asking for one of my mom's best-loved recipes. What timing!) It turns out that yes, it was the song, and when I played it for my daughter, she explained to me wide-eyed that the very same song popped into her head completely out of the blue earlier that day, and at the time she wondered how she would feel if she ever heard it on the radio - for she, too, only had heard it once before, at my mom's bedside. And that is the truly amazing thing about sharing such experiences. Had I kept it to myself, I would not have received the information my daughter had to offer that took the experience to a more intriguing and powerful level.
Needless to say, I let my dad know about the song coming to both my daughter and me the same day, and it made him happy.
That same evening, while sitting at the kitchen table, I happened to notice that the bag of ecologically grown apples I'd bought that afternoon came from the small town in Vermont where my mom grew up. I've never before seen or heard any reference to that town other than in my mom's obituary and in her stories about her childhood!
Last weekend, I was surprised to find one of her memorial prayer cards on my bed. It was the only thing on my bed.
And then there's a certain kind of longing that is entirely new to me.
Recently, I was preparing for a meeting about which I felt quite anxious. As the day of the meeting approached, I found myself wanting to channel my mother's energy for the first time in my life. It continues to astound me that it took a terminal diagnosis before I was able to perceive and appreciate fully the gifts she gave to the world through the kind, gracious, and hospitable manner in which she lived her life. In an effort to differentiate myself from her and become my own person with a strong backbone and the ability to say no, I had rejected and discarded some of her most salient qualities, considering them weaknesses (for nobody experiences a parent's shadow side as clearly as his or her children). But that week, I was nearly desperate to retrieve them, for I was neither whole nor balanced without them. If only I could channel my mother's energy, I knew I could relate to the other parties with loving-kindness and handle the situation with grace and poise. As an extra measure, I wore one of her bracelets that day - a delicate chain with gold hearts and pearls - as a visual reminder to stay calm and rooted in kindness. It worked, and I left the meeting feeling relieved. (Thanks, Mom!)
As I floated in my kayak one afternoon this week, the following words drifted through my mind as I thought of my mother:
As Jesus taught us to pray
And our mothers taught us to love,
Let us forgive our parents' mortality
And embrace our divine heritage
Which is unconditional love and light.
When I write my way through grief, there's a natural tendency to want to tie it up neatly by the end. But the human reality of my mom's death is not neat. Pardon my language, but it sucks not to have my mom physically in my life. I derive strength from knowing I am not alone in this journey and that losing a parent is part of the natural course of human life. But I also find strength in the recognition that my mom's legacy lives on through me. Integrating the qualities that I used to push away is a journey towards wholeness and a blessing. To discover my mom's essence inside the very breath I breathe is a joy to which the only response is gratitude. Gratitude like mighty rays of sunlight that evaporate the tears of the clouds that temporarily cover the luminous sky.
It cuts through the sadness.
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