This is the day, one year ago, that everything changed.
As a little girl I yearned for a photographic memory– it never developed– but I remember every detail of April 27th, 2009: the warmth of the air, the intoxicating scent of cherry blossoms, the angle of the sun as it danced between branches and clouds, my mother’s voice trembling through the phone, ““I have the best, most treatable form of liver cancer. But I have liver cancer.” The words she said next, the words that transformed my life are here— but I won’t repeat them today.
None of us knew that day that we were perched on the edge of a steep incline, and that the next forty days would send us hurtling to my mom’s death. Because people get cancer all the time- don’t they?– and they go through treatments and surgeries and remissions. And yes, cancer kills, but I assumed we had years if not decades left (my mother’s mother is in her mid-nineties and living in fairly good health).
But I do have the blessing, the divine mercy, of reflecting on those forty days with almost no regrets. I spoke to my parents every day, I visited as often as possible and I held my mother’s hand as we talked and laughed and she drifted into slumber.
And she died perfectly, as few people do: fully prepared to meet her maker, beloved by her family and reconciled to her shortened life. Those are rare gifts. And still, I was grateful to see her fight so fiercely at the end, because she didn’t want to leave us, she didn’t want to go.
Even as we went through the burial arrangements and the funeral, I knew that this was the good sort of grief. Friends buoyed us with meals, flowers and hugs; and my mother’s death, though too soon, was sweet and pure, unmarred by shame. So many times in life we walk through our private sorrows alone. I’ve been through some of those. And a public grief– though still incomprehensible to many– is something you can talk about and write about and seek counsel wide and far.
My dad has never lost a parent. His mother turned 90 in February and his dad will reach that milestone on July 4th. It’s strange to walk a path that he’s so unfamiliar with.
Silently, I compare my mom’s age with every older woman I meet– and I envy their days and years.
The death of my mother is not the hardest thing I’ve dealt with this year (and please don’t think I say that lightly), but it has been the most pervasive. Losing her has colored a portion of every day, but in recent weeks I’ve begun to notice her presence more than her absence. She is in the garden and the kitchen with me, admiring Mary’s cartwheels and giggling at Hansie’s unique sense of humor.
I look forward with absolute certainty to the glorious day when we meet again face to face– and that knowledge, that surety, is the greatest gift I’ve known.