Memories are fleeting, blurring over time. Some require a spark of stimulation to come back to the surface. Others may be lost in time. There are some that we cherish, and others that we wish would forget, but their imprint is firm and enduring.
April is the month of my mom’s birthday, which puts me into a reflective state of mind. Mom was big into birthdays, and we could always count on a special day growing up. She wouldn’t go over the top with parties and presents, but could always count on a favorite dinner, some treats, and a present of two. And she would always lead the rendition of Happy Birthday, usually it was a solo effort, as we’re not a family of singers. Her gift was love.
After her passing in 2012, it took some time to tap into some of the memories that were not associated with her struggle with cancer. Mother’s Day, 2012, was our final one together. It’d be fine, it’s Mom, I thought to myself. Never really considering anything other than a recovery and back to normal. As we sat in the hospital so she could get a PET scan, things would work out. They’d have to.
And then they didn’t. Summer came and the weather grew hot and humid, and Mom declined. The chemotherapy attacked the cancer and her body in equal measure. Then her last checkup revealed the treatments were ineffective, and cancer spread into her brain.
A few days later, I headed over earlier than expected to visit. The decline was shocking to see. So rapid and aggressive. I wanted to be strong, but ended up heading into the bathroom to cry. Not one of my moments of inner strength. She was dying. There’s always a possibility of a miracle, but as we stood our death watch with her, we shared the traditional family stories. Tales of Caruso (our dog), the misadventures of operating construction equipment at a nearby shopping center under construction, or some of the classic bodily function stories while in church (Mom was the only female in the household), Mom would soak them in one last time. Smiling as we talked in the room. We’d tell her that we’d be ok, that she didn’t have to linger if she didn’t want to. Although she couldn’t communicate much verbally, she still reassured us. It was so fast.
Death is about the only thing that really doesn’t care about what you do, who you are, how much money you have, or whether or not you’re ready. It will hit those hard that are old and young, regardless of gender or race. 2020 marked such a sad time for not just us, but the global community. A year of misery and suffering for so many.
It’s easy to focus on the misfortune, pain, and suffering in life. For those who have lost and are suffering. Things will get better. Time heals all wounds is just an overused cliché. Loss and suffering are not trivial feelings that simply disappear. Time doesn’t make them go away.
For me, for a long time after Mom died, it was hard. My thoughts and memories strayed to the end of her life. Each birthday or major holiday, I’d feel her absence and skipped over our cherished memories. Time may not heal all wounds, but it will eventually balance things out. The feeling of loss and suffering will be there, but slowly other memories will resurface. There are days I still dwell on her not being here. But there are many days when I remember something about her and it makes me feel good, and can’t help but smile.
When I think about Mom, I now think about all the times she was there when I was playing little league baseball or playing basketball at school. The memories of these activities are strong within me, probably because of Mom and Dad always being there. I can still hear her clapping and shouting words of encouragement, or scolding me when I gave the opposing crowd the middle finger. In all fairness, they did laugh when I face planted when I tripped over first base. She loved my successes when I began my career, and was always the voice of encouragement. Sure, I’ll always remember her passing and the suffering she endured, but more and more I can see her as a vibrant young mom at the center of so many memories.
Those who have lost, take heart. You’ll never lose the feeling of loss, but you’ll put it in better perspective over time. Embrace what you feel. Don’t let anyone tell you to ignore it or trivialize them. It’ll hurt. There will be emptiness. And there will be reflection of a whole life lived. Then one day you’ll see, hear, or smell something that will trigger happy memories and you’ll smile and feel so good.
Mom left us in body, but she carries on in spirit and memory. For that, I feel so grateful and blessed. I had her for the first half of my life, and I feel so lucky. She may be gone, but I can still her voice and her laugh. I can feel her encouragement and her love. For those who’ve lost, take heart, it will get better.