When my dad died suddenly at age 68, I was 25 years old and finishing up grad school. I was shaken to the core. I cried so much the tiny capillaries under my eyes burst. I couldn’t for the life of me envision a future without my dad. But the future came anyway, and before long I was fully immersed in a new life–new state, new job, new friends–still grieving the loss of my dad, but moving forward nonetheless, almost in spite of myself.
This past week, I lost my mom. Almost 30 years had passed between the death of my dad and my mom. My mom’s death was more gradual. As you often hear, she was in “declining health” for a couple of years after her stroke before she accelerated to the end in a matter of days. She led a long, healthy life, a life well-lived, full of friends and family, travel and adventure as well as hardships, angry moments, difficult relationships and all the complexity life has to offer. But she was fun and amazing and full of joie de vivre to the end. No matter that she was 91 years OLD, she was my mama mia, my friend, my (sometimes rocky) rock and the keeper of my childhood memories. I miss her voice, her laugh, the touch of her skin, and oh, those stories she’d tell (and retell–and embellish!). “Remember that time we drove to the BEACH in a blizzard and got snowed in for a WEEK?” “Did I tell you about the time an ENTIRE AIRPLANE landed on my car?” I even miss those snarky comments “You’re wearing THAT to the party?” and her steel magnolia wit and charm, sometimes without the magnolia! She was southern to the core–Williamsburg style houses all the way, pineapples above the door at Christmas, bright colors all year long, gold earrings and southern hospitality at its finest. The center of her world was “inside the beltline” and anywhere else was “out of town”. And yet, she broke the mold when she felt like it, did and said what she wanted, when she wanted. She relentlessly pursued higher education, obtaining her Masters degree around age 45 and a Ph.D. another decade or so later, pursued a career when her friends stayed home. avoided bridge, traveled the world, fought tirelessly for those in need, and accepted people of all colors, classes and stations in life. She was a proud woman’s libber and supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s, providing young me with first-hand training on finding my own voice and making sure it resonates with my life’s journey. In other words, walk the walk.
So, mama mia, I’ll keep walking the walk with your voice and example guiding me along the way. My grief may be less intensely physical (no broken capillaries this time around!), but it is just as real and just as deep. Like your death versus dad’s, it’s more of a slow walk than a sprint. Thank goodness–I’m too old to sprint!
Cheers to you, Mom!