But that pain can be replaced with the lifetime of good memories that you have, with some work, and you can still feel close to them instead of moving on. Who wants to move on with a life separate from them anyway? That's exactly what we don't want to do. My Mom is a part of my daily life and everything I do. I am the Mom that I am to my daughter because she was such a nurturing, sweet Mom to me.
Mom never judged, chided or even questioned me. She was always accepting, patient and kind. She gave me confidence instead of doubt. She had the patience of a saint and was always happy. If she was ever under stress, it never showed. Instead of worrying, she trusted and knew things would work out. She had contagious, genuine laughter. And, she was fun.
More often than not now, thoughts of her give rise to a warm, happy feeling instead of the sadness that I used to feel. This was not the case a year ago. When I think of her, I now have this comforting feeling that she is everywhere, close to me and looking down. Always present and never far. I can call upon her wisdom and the qualities she possessed and ask myself what she would do in any given situation. She still provides me with both comfort and strength, her gentle strength.
This anniversary of her death has me thinking of how, even in the end, she lived her life with grace and happiness, no matter what came her way. Because she endured what she did without complaining, I feel like I can weather any storm, and I can do so with a smile, like she did.
What she went through, and what I bore witness to has made me infinitely stronger. With all of the fears and appointments and certainty of her prognosis looming, we still had fun.
On this anniversary, I am reminded that it is possible to be facing the terminal diagnosis of a loved one or yourself and still have a beautiful day. Prior to Mom's diagnosis, I never would have believed this. But now I know it to be true. Because we did. And if this is true, it is also possible to be facing just about any news and still have a beautiful day.
The picture above was taken a few months after her terminal diagnosis. It was a warm, sunny, fall day in southern California. She had undergone brain surgery to remove the tumor. I had googled life expectancy. I knew. We had raised money to move her (and my Dad and brother) to Orange County, close to us and close to better treatment, while my husband (then my fiancee) helped fix up and rent their house in Yucaipa. She had another surgery to install a port, and had started her chemotherapy.
I remember being struck by the fact that she didn't seem sick. She seemed fine. But we knew. On this day, (which I blogged about here) we had gone to an intention Mass for Mom at St. John Neumann, where my husband and I were to be married in just a few month's time. We didn't know it, but that day was a blessing of the sick which they do quarterly. Just like Mom, many of the people in line didn't look sick either.
When Mom went up to the alter, the Priest touched the side of her head that held the cancer with the oil, and made the sign of the cross. The side that she would lose her sight in just a few month's time. As she was walking back to our pew, I could tell she was overcome with emotion, and was crying. This is one of, if not the only, time I saw her cry from her diagnosis to her passing.
But we left Mass that day with a good feeling. A feeling of closeness. Closer to each other, and closer to God. She described the comforting, cleansing feeling she would get as a child after leaving mass or confession and knowing that she was right with God. And I imagine she felt it that day. "I can still remember the smell of wax in the church" she said. She told me again of the Archbishop, John Henry King, who attended mass at her church in Reading, England in 1958. The Archbishop was walking down the aisle, but changed course when he saw Mom. She was with her Mom, in the middle of the pew, and not easy to reach. Several people had to move as he made his way over to my Mom, a child of seven, to offer her a blessing and pray over her. The whole congregation thought it was a very big deal, and would bring it up for years to come.
"That means you have a cross to bear." Mom would grow up hearing my Nana say. "And he was giving you the strength you need."What the priest had just done, knowing what side to bless, brought her back to her childhood and that story we both grew up hearing. "Wow Mom, did he do that to anyone else?" I would ask when I was little. "No, just me! Must have been my red hair." She would respond, dismissively. But she knew it meant something.
As we headed back to the freeway, I stopped at a vegetable stand on a whim and we picked up some items for dinner. We saw this sign urging us to "Have a Beautiful Day" and Mom posed for the picture. At first, the sign seemed absurdly paradoxical, mocking us. But then I remember distinctly thinking to myself "You know what? It is a beautiful day." In spite of the fears, in spite of everything looming, it was a good day. And I shared this with Mom and she agreed, saying "So many people are much more unhappy over so much less."
And I'm reminded now, three years after the picture was taken, that if it was possible for us to have a good day then, it is possible for every day to be a beautiful day, no matter what life throws our way.
This is not to say that I don't get down or bothered by petty, insignificant things. By toxic, unhappy people or the stress of a busy day. I still fall prey to that, but now it is fleeting and temporary. I can see the bigger picture and I am much quicker to put it in perspective and shrug it off. To turn the other cheek. To smile and remain silent, like she did. Or trust and know that everything will be okay.
For those of you wondering about our doctor's appointment today and an update with our third round of IVF, we were surprised and delighted to learn that we had 3 embryos. Three! I'm going to be uncharacteristically reticent here and just say that you'll have to wait and see what we decided to do with them and the outcome.
Until then, I'm just trusting that it's all going to work out how it is supposed to, and remind myself that no matter what happens, everything will be okay.
Thank you for reading something so close to my heart.