It happened again
I wanted to call you up
I wanted your opinion about something …
Charlie Peacock, from the song “My Father’s Crown”
Yesterday was kind of rough as Mother’s Days go. I managed breakfast in bed for my wife (cheese omelet, raspberry Danish, banana, juice) and a gift (a musical snow globe, which she really liked). But I was pretty much dead to the world by about 10 a.m., and didn’t recover until this morning. I was out of energy, had an odd sort of headache, and no interest in much of anything. I basically stayed in my office, except to wrap some meat for the freezer and give myself a haircut (something I’d been putting off for too long). Very strange, even given the brokenness I described in my last entry.
It wasn’t until late last night that it hit me what was really wrong: it was my first Mother’s Day without my mom.
Which you think I would’ve clued in on, since I’d spent the previous week cringing every time a Mother’s Day ad came on TV or the Internet. Each time, it was like … well, not a stab to the heart; more like a thorn catching your skin. But once you get to the hundredth thorn, what’s the difference?
Maybe I should recap. My mom, Sue Anselmo (1943-2009) died the Sunday after Thanksgiving of complications following a massive stroke. The death certificate listed the cause as “liver cancer,” which made me suspect it had been filled out in advance — the liver cancer was what everyone (including her) expected would get her, only the stroke pulled out a late upset. She had also been dealing with five mostly occluded coronary arteries and a brain aneurysm, so it was only a matter of time. She knew all of this, and all of the implications (she’d been a nurse for almost 40 years), and she and we were mentally preparing for the inevitable for months in advance. That made it easier.
But it didn’t make it easy, and exacerbating matters was that she wasn’t quite physically prepared to go. No will, no order for a memorial service, and some of the relatives hadn’t been told anything. So I spent the next three months as the de facto executor of her estate — planning the memorial service, coordinating with the crematorium, cleaning out her apartment, turning off services, canceling cards, closing bank accounts, sending stuff to my brother and dealing with abrasive calls from my father (her ex-husband for 29 years now), demanding that I hunt down her copy of his safety deposit box key (among other things). By the time everything was more or less squared away, it was late February and I was seriously numb.
Well, and exhausted. Keep in mind that the rest of one’s life doesn’t stop when something like this happens. And this three-month space also includes my birthday, my wife’s birthday, my son’s birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. This year, it also entailed the start of Sean’s physical therapy sessions, the arrival of his wheelchair and bath chair, and my daughter’s mid-year promotion from third to fourth grade (we think, anyway — given her school’s non-proclivity with paperwork, we probably won’t be totally sure until September). I not only didn’t have much time to grieve, I barely had time to blink.
But then, any grieving process worth its salt wouldn’t have been done by March 1 anyway. I think it’s Mark Twain who once said that when someone you love dies, it’s like your house burning down; only years later do you realize the full extent of your loss. Over the last twenty years, my relationship with Mom had evolved from mother-and-child into a deep friendship. We would talk on the phone about whatever came to mind, and had a lot of fun doing it. Often we disagreed — on politics (she remained a liberal Democrat, while I voted for W. twice), religion (I journeyed from her low-church Episcopalianism to whatever-it-is-I-am-now), even our favorite subject, books (she couldn’t join me in my devotional and hard-SF forays any more than I could share her interest in murder mysteries and Harry Potter). But we always found plenty of common ground, shared an unusual number of laughs and advised each other during crises.
And that’s what puts the sting in those hundred little thorns. It’s those moments when I see a particularly funny cartoon or interesting article, or I’m trolling for medical advice, and I want to call her up … and she isn’t there. It’s the times I want to send her something, and there’s no way to send it to where she is now. And the numbness comes back … but it’s more like the numbness when your foot falls asleep and you get that prickly sensation that makes you want to groan through your teeth as the blood flow returns. Or maybe the “phantom pains” of someone who’s lost a limb.
I don’t grieve for her. She is in Heaven now — I am more confident of this than I am of my last breath — and feeling no pain, no despair, no loss. It’s we who are left behind, still trapped in the cage of time and sin and death, that suffer. Mom’s death is her gain, but it’s my loss.
And yet … and yet, it is a temporary loss. When your house burns down, but you’re insured, you get it rebuilt. When your loved one dies, but you and they both belong to Jesus, you have the insurance (assurance) of eternal life with Him — and with each other. And it’s on that belief that I rest, on that medicine that I depend for relief from the stings. Someday, I will see Mom again, and be able to share with her everything we missed. Or maybe that won’t be necessary, that God’s promise that “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12) will extend even to the trivia of comic strips and Joe Haldeman novels. I don’t know; I’ll have to find out when I get there.
But now, when I get there, it’s won’t just be my heavenly Father’s arms that I look forward to being held by. There’s another set of arms waiting for me too.