On the morning of May 25, 2002, my family learned that my mom had died in her sleep. In May of 2004, I moved in with my brother, Chris, and his wife, Lori, and began walking toward recovery (here’s the rest of the story.) Amidst a life full of acceptance and healing, I must stop to do something very important: Remember her.
It’s been ten years since my mom died; ten years since she’s stroked my hair on a Saturday morning. Ten years since she’s fed my goldfish before she tucked me into bed. Ten years since I’ve heard her voice, or her laugh. A decade is a long time. And as long as it’s been, I think it will be stranger next year; on May 26, 2013, I’ll wake up having lived longer without my mother than I did with her. But still, a decade, well—it’s a long time.
I am—so, so obviously—different than when she knew me. I’ve grown up, in every single sense of that phrase. I’m no longer a little girl, and in some ways, I made the transition into adulthood the very morning she wouldn’t wake up. On the other hand, I’m still learning how to manage bank accounts and remain rational when I see a cockroach or get angry. In the most important way, I’ve take ownership of my relationship with Jesus Christ, something my mother would absolutely lose her goose about. The more I get to know Jesus, the more I see how much she loved Him indeed.
It turns out that May 25, 2002, wasn’t the worst day of my life. See, that day was fraught with a sudden shearing pain, but it was the kind that turns numb after impact. That day, and for some days following, we ran on adrenaline and the lasagna the neighbors brought over; no, there were many days in the following years that I missed my mom more, days when the morning’s realization that she was still gone was like concrete scraping down a raw wound. I remember these days, these mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed and go downstairs to see a family that no longer knew how to be that. These parts about losing my mom were secondary, though, to losing my mom. And that’s what I’m here to tell you: It was so hard because she was so beautiful, in every way you could dream up. And if I have this, this place where I tell you about the little bitty things in my life, I should use it to share the great big, too. And this, well, this is what I can give her.
Let me tell you this: nobody really cares about your flaws. I’m not quite sure why we fixate so much on what is wrong with us, because to the people whose gardens you flower, it doesn’t matter. Sure, I could tell you pretty matter-of-factly some of the things she did wrong, but I don’t have time to consider that; when my mind fills with my mother, it’s only the good that I see. There was so much good.
She loved to garden. She didn’t mind sitting with me on the sidelines when I was a kid while my dad and siblings rode roller coasters. She had an affinity for books and libraries, and she dog-eared the pages in books. She liked Frito pies from Sonic and Big Macs from McDonalds. She asked my father to make her a clothesline so she could dry our sheets in the sunshine. She liked to write letters and notes. She saved ketchup from fast food restaurants in her glove compartment. She liked to dance. She loved angel figurines. She used hot rollers every morning. One Saturday I made her blueberry pancakes, and she insisted the cable guy sit down and have breakfast with us. She was a big fan of surprises, and also adventures. She liked coffee in the evenings.
More than all of that, she was full of hope. She believed in God, and in us, and in herself. She saw the green light; she reached out for it. She was hellbent on running faster and reaching farther, although some days she got tired. And on those days she would lie on the couch and admit that: “I’m tired.” She spoke truth over me all of the time, reminding me constantly that “the only person who loves you more than your mama is Jesus.” When I was in fourth grade, and too scared to go to the regional spelling bee even though I’d won at my school, she said, “It takes a strong person to admit when they’re afraid. I’m proud of you.” She showed me the joy in singing in the car, in enjoying the ride even if you weren’t going any particular place. She could take a joke, and she could make a joke. And people, she loved to laugh.
But what does all of this mean now? I’ve sashayed into a world where I understand that the Lord ordained every single day in this decade, the painful ones and the less-painful ones and the life-is-back ones. I can see that my life has been carefully orchestrated to showcase the glory of God if I let it; I choose to let it, and I choose to tell you of His healing, of His sovereignty, of His grace. Read that here, now: Healing. Sovereignty. Grace. I’ve seen them most here, in this place, in the corner of my heart that not only loves my mother, but misses her. And I do—fiercely. Still, cliche as it sounds, my mother would be heartbroken if she found out I didn’t get over it, and with that in mind, I did. I moved on. I let the Lord restore my soul. But I remember her.
Sometimes, it’s when I’m brewing afternoon coffee; other times, it’s a glance in the mirror, and suddenly I can’t catch my breath because she’s in the way my eye squints or my hair curls or my forehead peeks out. There are the moments when I laugh too loud and someone shushes me, and at first I feel indignant, but then I can hear her singsong laughter bubbling from three aisles away or across the parking lot, and it sounds like mine. When I’m on the phone and I’ve just regaled Janie with a 47-minute story about my toes; when I’m tucking myself into bed with a book and a smile; when I think about having some babies and raising them in the garden—she shows up, even after all this time. And I don’t know if you can see here from the streets of gold, and frankly, I think it’s just fine if you can’t. But if she can, I know she sees it, too, and she must smile and say, “Oh, yes. She’s mine. And look, she finally figured out what to do about that hair.”
It’s been ten years since my mom died; ten years since she’s stroked my hair on a Saturday morning. Ten years since she’s fed my goldfish before she tucked me into bed. Ten years since I’ve heard her voice, or her laugh. But when I close my eyes, I can see my favorite parts of her: her delicate hands; her pretty crows feet; her squinty eye. A decade is 10 years, but if it were 10,000, I would still remember.