Fifteen days. It has been 15 days since my mother’s spirit left her body. I was in Las Vegas for a work conference when I got word she was near the end. I flew back on the first flight I could, managed to get to her side, and she passed just a few hours later surrounded by my dad, my four siblings, two of her grandchildren, and two of my brothers-in-law. It was the saddest and the most grateful I’ve ever felt. The sorrow seems to know no bounds, but the gratitude is even more profound. Every small thing that needed to work in my favor in order for me to get to my mom before she died, happened. There was room on the flight, a short line to check out from the hotel, no line for a taxi…no delays, no hiccups. The Universe and I worked in concert to get me there.
Back in November, shortly after we learned of her terminal diagnosis, we had a meeting with a palliative care team. It was an introductory meeting of sorts, but it was the one and only time I ever saw my mom break down during the past year. She was worried about me. When they asked her why, she held back tears as she said, “She’s my baby.”
When I arrived at the nursing facility that afternoon of May 7th, my mom had been unresponsive all day, the morphine relaxing her to a near-coma-like state so that her difficulty breathing would not cause her panic. About an hour after I arrived, she had a small window of awareness. With tears streaming down my face, I did my best to smile at her and let her know it was OK. We’d take care of my dad. We would miss her terribly, but it was OK. I would be OK – no need to worry. She couldn’t move, and although she tried to talk, she was physically unable. But I believe understanding passed between our gazes, love and peace. And then she was gone.
Food has always been my greatest comfort at times like these, and this has been no exception. I am, once again, 45 pounds overweight, interminably exhausted, and wanting to give up on my goals. I worked really hard the beginning of this year to create good habits, build up my physical and mental strength, and lose fat. It was great, I felt proud, but my emotional state these past two weeks has proven that the mind is more powerful than anything else.
This is a health and fitness blog, and it massively important to both Andrea and myself that we continue to talk about the importance of mental and emotional health. Dealing with this monumentally difficult time in my life has presented significant challenges in my quest for physical health. Grief is an intense bedfellow, one who does not lie down easily. He sneaks up on you when you least expect it, having an infinite amount of triggers. The smell of fresh cut grass, the scent of a perfume, a rush of memories and sadness can overtake at any moment. But he is not to be dismissed nor should one be told to just get over him. Each individual is different. There is no timeline for recovery. There is no getting over or moving on. Only moving through. Feeling all the sadness and pain – things I once would have worked hard to escape in the past – is important and vital.
So I start over for the millionth time, because as a good friend reminded me this week, “What defines us is how well we rise after falling.” I have a half marathon in less than three months that will require focus and training. I have a life and the only way to do my mother’s legacy justice is to live it.
I’ve included below the words I spoke at my mom’s funeral. It’s a gentle reminder to me that perspective is everything.
Inspire. Motivate. Move.
Hello. I am Rebecca. Thank you all for being here today. I am humbled by the multitude of hearts in this room. I pull much strength from you seeing as I am plum out.
My parents have been members of this parish for about half a century. All of their children attended the school, myself from Kindergarten through 8th grade – Go, Spirits! As a result, I have faced a lot of fears in this church. When I was six – and then again at eight – I marched down that aisle petrified as the flower girl in my sisters’ weddings. I sat face-to-face with Monsignor Barry for my first confession in that room back there, which, as anyone who knew the man can attest, should be listed as a feat of strength. I read psalms and readings from this podium where I stand now. And I sang my first solo at that podium over there. Each of these things were panic-inducing, but none of them compare to the sheer terror I am feeling right now.
For how do I properly summarize the woman whose life we are here to celebrate? How do I stand here in front of all of you whose lives she touched and do her justice? How do I say goodbye to my mom?
As you may know, I am the youngest child of our little family. There are 10 years, seven months, and 30 days between me and Cheryl, which often leads a lot of people to jokingly comment on how I was the “mistake”. My friends, Joanna & Amy, and I referred to ourselves in high school as “The Three Mistakeers”, so I have a sense of humor about it.
But my mom never referred to me as a mistake. Even though I’m certain my arrival was completely unplanned and unexpected, she never once called me an “oops baby”. She said I was a surprise.
And that, for me, defines who my mom was. She was barely in her 40s and having a baby when it was not the norm as it is today, and she made a choice: Not to resent me, but to love me.
I was the youngest of five and for all intents and purposes, she was starting over. The other children were 10 and older, primarily self-sufficient, so my mom could have just phoned this one in. But she was there for me. She coached soccer teams (even though she had NO previous knowledge of the game); she drove carpool and went to every single soccer, volleyball, basketball game and swim meet; there were always fresh baked goods in the kitchen and home-cooked meals on the table; she made my lunch every day, volunteered in classrooms, at sporting events, and carnivals; she made me and my dolls clothes, and she fostered my love of reading and language. My mom nurtured my talents, let me make mistakes and find my own path. And now, looking back, the most amazing part of all of this, is that she did it without pretense or want for gratitude. She just did it because she was my mom, and she loved me.
When my mom decided I was a surprise, she changed the course of how my life played out. She raised me to be confident, kind, responsible, polite, quick-witted, self-effacing and a little goofy. She raised me to be like her. And aside from the gift of life, it is that for which I am most grateful.
Thank you, Mom, for truly loving unconditionally. Thank you for this beautiful family you created. Thank you for being my mom.
I will spend the rest of my days striving to be the person who still surprises you.