I am struggling to even find the words to say tonight. I have known my share of sorrow this past year. I have tried not to wallow in it too deeply, not only for the sake of others, but for my own sake as well. For a time, I allowed myself to connect deeply with the grief and the emptiness, the aloneness, and the fear that death brings with it. I should quickly point out that it is not only myself that has been affected in this past year. My family, too, has struggled with the losses – my father, my two sisters, my two brothers, my nieces and my nephews, and my cousins too. We have all been touched by the pain and sorrow of loss this past year.
It was one year ago this morning that my wife had woken up and informed me that we needed to go and see my mother… today. Today being a Sunday, October 6, 2013. By now I had learned not to question such pronouncements when they came and so we had gone to see my mother who by this time was in the final stages of her life. When we arrived, my mom was sleeping and so we had sat out in her library where she was in bed, talking with my sister quietly. By this time my sister, both my sisters, were emotionally and physically exhausted beyond exhausted. I would come to know this state of being for myself, just a few short months later. For now it was our turn, Laureen’s and mine, to just be there with my mother, and my sister, and my father, and. . . I don’t know. . . what do you do in such a moment? Bear witness to it? It seems as though there is nothing else that you can do.
I stood and walked over to my mom. Meanwhile Laureen and my sister had continued to talk. And while I was standing next to mom and looking down at her, she had opened her eyes and I immediately saw the recognition in them even as she reached out to grab my hand with her hand. She said my name, and just held on to me tightly, like she would never let go. This was the moment Laureen had brought us here for – so that we might, for one last time, acknowledge each other – my mom, myself, Laureen, and my sister – all present, bearing witness to our lives. Laureen stood up and came over to us and mom reached out and touched her hand too.
Such a huge gift that Laureen, in her foresight, gave to me that day. The wisdom to know that at that very moment, we needed to be with my mother so that we might all, silently, say goodbye.
Mom passed away the next afternoon, on October 7th. Tomorrow will mark 1 year since her passing. I was 55 years old when she died. That means that she was just 24 years old when she gave birth to me. In between, we had lived a lifetime. The 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s – all gone in a flash, just distant faded memories now. I remember the childhood birthday parties when we were all still just kids, the swimming pool in our back yard, and somehow that morphed into high school, and then college, and then weddings and births and the passing of grandparents and suddenly one day your parents are old and you are older than you remember your parents being somewhere. . . sometime, long ago in a faded photograph. And you wonder, how does that happen? How does it all go so fast? And I just sit here and ponder all of that and I feel the tears behind my eyes, welling up, and I long for those long summer days as a child when it felt like summer might go on forever but it doesn’t go on forever. . .
For now, for this day, today, I choose to honor both my mom’s life, and my wife’s life too. Instead of losing myself in the overwhelming, all-consuming darkness that my grief could become, I am fighting to live my life in a way that will honor both their memories. I want them to see, from whatever their new vantage point might be, that all those lessons they imparted to me, all their laughter, all of their tears, all of their feelings of love for me, that I carry the energy of all those experiences and moments within me. A part of the light that shines from within me is the result of the light they imparted to me. As it is for all of us. We are not just our own unique selves but rather, we are a composite embodiment of all the people who have touched our lives – through memories and fragments of memories and the emotions they invoke, those who precede us live on within us, until we ourselves are no more.