I’m not entirely certain any more of the date my father died. I know it was the first week of January 2011, but 4th? 6th? 7th..?
And although I do know Mom’s death date (September 17, 2011), it’s only because it’s also my brother’s birthday. The first anniversary of her death, we celebrated his birthday and acknowledged Mom’s death day. The next year, Mom’s death date wasn’t mentioned.
In fact, although I was in charge of getting family consensus (don’t ask. I survived. That’s all you need to know.) and ordering my parents’ shared tombstone, I have yet to see it in person.
It’s not that the death dates didn’t matter at the time (oh did they ever!!!)… or that I don’t care (I still cry when I see the tombstone photos), or that I’m avoiding anything (believe me, I easily recognize that familiar feeling). It’s that, to me, a date of loss or an engraved chunk of granite embedded in the ground is simply not them. At all.
Right after each death, I needed the death dates to hold onto… a simple, practical way of marking something too huge to grasp.
Then the first year after Mom died, I kept her close instead by remembering the heart-breaking & — oddly enough– laughter-interspersed beauty of the last 3 days with her… (relying heavily on the support of the lavender-scented teddy bear my niece gave me to squeeze when the memories hit. Yes, teddy bear at 44. Turns out no matter what age you are when you lose your mom, you’re a kid again.).
The next year, it was more about the memories of her last 3 years — the exhausting mix of visits including Dairy-Queen-Blizzard-fueled delight and the comfounding struggles of her aging with Parkinson’s.
This year, I recently realized, it’s about her ESSENCE.
The more time that passes, the more the distraction of Mom’s age, health, religion, roles in life… all of that stuff falls away and what’s left is simply, stunningly, a profound sense of her energy, her spirit… her — I believe — SOUL.
They say time heals all wounds. I say time uncovers essence.
On the outside, Mom was an uber-modest God-fearing missionary preacher’s wife, a piano teacher, mother of a gazillion (well, 9, but numbers become a moot point after 3 or 4) children, ordained prison minister, bargain shopper extraordinaire, “collector” (ahem. there are other words for this), gentle-hearted spanish/english translator, etc.
But I’m pretty sure on the inside, at her essence, she was (is?) also a strong-willed, brave, free-spirited, fiercely loving, slightly extravagant, somewhat over-the-top sort of being.
I feel Mom’s essence now in the body of the vibrant african-american woman joyously singing out her praise to God as she accompanies a rocking gospel choir in a massive church on Sunday morning and evening. Or like, as my sister and I were just saying, Della Reese on Touched By an Angel.
I feel Mom’s essence now in the body of a cuban woman drinking espressos with her buddies at midnight, her hair piled up in a vibrant bundle with wavy gray/brown locks escaping gleefully from her bobbypins that she’s so carefully placed with her multi-ringed fingers.
I feel Mom’s essence now in the body of a human rights advocate with a backbone made of steel and a heart made of gold and ice-cream.
Holy crow, that’s the same “essence” running through the core of ME!
I’m off to chew on this for a while… but in the meantime, if you’re feeling loss of a loved one, consider their essence. They just might be closer than you think.
espresso, “cubano” style