Note: If there are typos or errors, please ignore them. I wrote this, but if I read it again, I’ll never send it. So I ask for your indulgence.
Wrestling with Death
© 2011, Vicki Hinze
WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
Fourteen years ago today, my mother died. It rocked my world.
You see, after my father passed away nine years earlier, my mother came to live with Hubby, the kids and me. We loved her being here. She had special things that she did with each of us, and her special way of doing the things she did.
She’d been sick for over six months, most of which she spent in the hospital, just before her death. Those were hard times—or so I thought. But the truth is, I hadn’t gotten to the really hard times yet. Those came after her passing.
For weeks I could still smell that hospital, sick smell on my skin. No amount of soap removes it. I felt totally out of sorts, as if I should be doing something only there was nothing left to do. I ran full-out all six months. Now, there was comforting to do, arrangements to handle, but not the 24/7 required during the hospital time. And that left chores like going through her things. Her beloved baseball caps, her suede boots in neon orange, lime green and stark purple. Her, “I’m not old. I’m a recycled teenager” sweatshirt. It was her favorite.
I couldn’t let go of anything. I’m a black and white, brown and cream, and navy kind of gal. It isn’t that I would use these things or let anyone else use them. They were such a part of her… I just couldn’t let go.
Months would pass before I could touch her books or jewelry or walk into her room and not feel totally overwhelmed at the absence of her in my daily life. Months before I could speak of her without weeping. Months before something would happen, and I’d rush to tell her only to realize at the door to her room that she was no longer there.
About a year after her passing, I recall standing upstairs at the back door to the deck looking out in total despair. The pain was still fresh, raw, and I thought, “If this is all there is, it’s not worth it.” Nothing mattered. Not really. The grief had taken over everything good and it had won.
I’d never experienced that before, and haven’t since, but at that moment, it was honest and it was real. It was the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life—and it’s had a lot of competition for the spot. Bleak, dark, and not a hint of light. It was just awful.
What was worse was that I knew I had to get past that, and the sooner the better. Lingering in that state of mind will drive you mad. I don’t know if it literally does, but who wanted to hang around to find out? Problem was, I had no idea how to do it.
It was the proverbial darkest night.
Then something I still can’t explain happened.
A year or more before she got sick, my mother gave me a book. She said for me not to read it then, but later. I’d know when. I shelved the book in my upstairs office in a case against the left wall. I stood near the right wall, looking outside over the deck, feeling completely empty. Just drained of everything, too soul weary to even pray.
I turned from the door and my elbow hit something atop a little case and knocked it to the floor. It was the book. The one that had been across the room in the left bookcase.
I didn’t move the book to the little case. No one else had been upstairs in my office. No one else was even in the house. I have no idea how it moved, I only know that it wasn’t where it’d been, and yet I’d knocked it to the floor. I picked it up and an envelope had been tucked inside. My mother had written on it: “I love you.” And she’d signed it, “Mama.”
That’s significant because I called her Jen. I had for many years. Her name was Edna. But somewhere years ago, I decided she should be Jen and called her that the rest of her life. My dad used to call her Lucy. It was a family tradition.
But when I was hurt. When I was brokenhearted. When I was half out of my mind in pain, I called her Mama. Not Mom, not Mother, but Mama.
I read the book. It spoke of all I was feeling. It spoke of things I had written about, pulling on imagination but in real terms. Cellular memory? I can’t say. I wrote them having no knowledge of these things and yet here they were in this book.
Others might read it and it mean nothing to them. But to me, it was my mother reaching back to me to show me the path forward. In the space of hours, I went from numb and nothingness to something that meant everything. And once I opened to healing, Christ the Comforter stepped in.
I won’t say I healed overnight. I think losing a parent is something you don’t get over. You just learn how to cope and let yourself live.
We all know the cycle of life requires death and offers rebirth. Knowing and living it are two different things. Grief is merciless and it will shred your soul if it gets the chance. But if given the chance, Christ will carry you.
The Comforter doesn’t remove you from grief or loss or death, but He suffers through it with you. Carries you when you can’t walk, holds you while you cry, and whispers words of hope into your ear. He stays with you, supporting, loving you not just until your tears dry and hope ignites, but all the days of your life.
Mothers never stop giving. Mine passed thirteen years ago today, but her gifts, like a message scrawled on an empty envelope in book I should read later, like in the memories of all she was, remain.
Today, I celebrate her life. I still miss her. I’ll always miss her. And that’s as it should be. She was a wonderful woman. Bright, compassionate, loving. A woman who lived her faith, spent her life serving others, and defied death to reach out and comfort her daughter one last time. She’s passed, and yet she lives in me every day of my life. In my memories, in all she taught me, and in my heart.
I know that other Christians will read this and understand that my reaction to her death wasn’t exactly typical. I wasn’t comforted that she had gone home, that she would be with Christ, that she could rest with God. If she had been in pain, perhaps I would have felt those things, but she wasn’t. I felt I’d lost my mother and my daughter at once. The spiritual journey is a hard one, and often times we see things in ourselves we find lacking. The solace is that in leaving me that note, she sent me back to Christ and, even as flawed as I am, He stood waiting.