Long Sighs and Deep Breaths

mom and jon 1987Last Friday marked eight years since I lost my mom. As with so many significant dates since her death, the day was marked with long sighs and deep breaths. While I didn’t shed any tears, there was an ache in my being that will remain until I see her again.

On days like that, my mind is running full speed, remembering, wondering, grieving. My mind generally parks on a few memories that make their way to the top of the assortment that’s whirling around in there. That day was no different and I found myself remembering two moments that my mom and I shared in those last six months together.

The first moment was after a doctor’s appointment where a treatment plan was laid out for her. She had already received her bleak diagnosis and was doing her best to break out of her default mode of realism (some would call it pessimism) and find some bright spots and hope in the midst of the darkness.

As we drove in the back of my aunt and uncle’s mini van, I could see the fear and sadness in her eyes. I reached for her hand, grasping it and holding on, as if hope could be transferred in a squeeze or a touch. Somehow I hoped that I could muster up enough of that for the both of us.

I looked at her face and saw the tears rolling down her cheeks. As I looked at her and asked, “What?” she just told me that she was scared. Those words naturally made me clasp on a little harder, squeeze a little tighter.

I honestly don’t know what else I said in that moment, but I remember thinking to myself, “Hell yeah you’re scared! I’m with you.” Words that I would never dare to utter to my squeaky clean mom whom I had never heard swear in my life.

But I admired her honesty. I was grateful for her showing me her vulnerability at that moment. That was a marker of our family though, being transparent and not hiding what was going on inside, something that I’ve prided myself on and desperately seek to pass on to my children as well.

The other moment was after she was released from the hospital for the last time. We all knew that she would be going home to die. Family gathered around in the small living room of their Williamsburg townhouse. Any conversation was a distraction from the reality of the situation, a detour to avoid the inevitable that was staring us in our faces.

I had already begun to write my mom’s eulogy, that was my way of processing things. I needed to mentally and emotionally prepare for my goodbye with words, my own therapeutic means of dealing with what would be the greatest loss in my lifetime to that point.

In my quiet moments of reflection and writing, I had come to the realization that it wasn’t every day that mothers and sons enjoyed the kind of relationship that my mom and I did. Some might poke fun, others might laugh at the awkwardness, but I rested in the fact that what we had was special and significant.

In her weakened state, my mom had simply closed her eyes as she sat up in the loveseat of their living room. I put my face so close to hers that our noses touched and I whispered, “You know, what we have is special, Mom. Not every mother and son has this.” She just replied, “I know.” As our noses met, I rubbed mine against hers in an Eskimo kiss, something that I’ve passed on to my daughter. It’s a moment that I feel like I not only share with my daughter but also that my daughter somehow shares with her grandmother whom she never had the privilege of meeting.

After that night and that moment, very few words were exchanged between my mom and I, not for lack of desire but for lack of strength on the part of my mom.

It’s moments like these that are eternally burned into my brain.They don’t only come to mind on command but can rush in like a torrent when I least expect them. But I welcome them, maybe not as warmly as I would welcome a trusted, old friend, but I welcome them nonetheless.

Long sighs and deep breaths, even as I write. As I push towards the decade marker since her loss, my mom continues to live her legacy through me and my family. She would be proud of where I am and what I am doing. She might not agree with everything, especially some of my brash and forthright ideology and language, but she would love me just the same.

In those moments between sighs and breaths, I choose not to live into moments of “What could have been” but rather “What can be.” I choose not to lament what was missed, but instead embrace what was and press into my own moments with my family, letting what could easily be swallowed in regret be formed into memories that will last a lifetime for me and my children.

Inevitably, when I share thoughts like this, people say the usual, polite things to me. They are sorry for my loss. They are praying for me. While I appreciate all of these things, writing about these does not mean that I still haven’t gotten over this loss (although I don’t think anyone ever completely gets over a loss). Writing about it keeps the memory alive, at least it does to me. Writing about me honors the time that I had and hopes to utilize the lessons learned for the way forward.

Yes, I miss my mom, but honoring her memory is best done in embracing what is before me rather than lamenting what is behind me. One day, when I see her again, I can tell her that and I expect that she’ll just give me that knowing look and say, “That’s my boy!”

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One thought on “Long Sighs and Deep Breaths

  1. Jon, This is so very tender. Thank you for sharing from the depths of your being. Love, Lowell Lowell Beach Sykes 501 VES Road, Apt. #B613 Lynchburg, VA 24503 USA Telephone: 434 386 3691

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