Four years ago today, one of the most significant events of my life occurred. It has an odd significance, because it did not necessarily shake my daily life at the time. I actually struggled to gain closure for a long time afterward because of the lack of change this event evoked on my day-to-day life style. Yet it has affected every single minute of my life, sometimes in microscopic ways and sometimes in ways so noticeable that it leaves me in tears.
On Mother’s Day, 2012, I wrote the following paragraph in a document that would end up turning into a sort of journal of my oddest and most painful thoughts. I share it now in an attempt to become a more open and vulnerable person.
“I hate funerals. I always have. I’ve only been to one, maybe two. One that was for someone I cared about. And I hated it. But a week from today I’ll be going to my mother’s funeral. She’s not even dead yet. Seems morbid to know that she will be dead by a certain day and time. Seems crass, awful. But we do. I’ve given up praying for miracles. I have no doubt that God can perform them – He can do anything He wants to do. It’s the wanting that’s a problem. Just cause He can doesn’t mean He will. I guess He didn’t want to this time.
There are dates I should remember. I don’t remember when she first got the fever blister, or when it was pronounced cancer. I don’t remember when she first went to the ICU or when she got a stomach tube. But I should remember May 13th 2012 – Mother’s Day. The day I found out my mother was officially dying. I say officially because I’ve known she was dying for a long time, but now there is a date put on it. May 15th 2012. The day my mother will die.”
I love my mother dearly, and I have more respect than I can even put into words for her, the life that she lived, and the strength that she possessed. She had high standards for her children, which may have placed more pressure on us than was easily managed at times. The older she got, the more fragile her heart became, and I lived in great fear of ever breaking it. But how can you blame her for expecting the most from us? We were the result of her life’s work. We were the stars of her life. We were her dream.
Though I know she never would have intended for any of her children to feel this way, I grew up terrified to make mistakes. If we had been raised so well, then we should be able to avoid poor choices. I wasn’t able to release this fear until about a year and half after she died. Now, whenever I make a choice or do something that I know would have disappointed her, I have this image of her up in heaven, throwing her hands in the air and ranting to the angels about how she raised me better than that, while the angels nod and smile at each other and comfort her. It’s an image that makes me smile, because it’s just who she was. I never let her desire for perfection in her children cause me to question the love she had for us.
I wonder at times how the last four years may have been different for me were she still alive. I wonder if I would have had the guts to take some of the risks I’ve taken or to make some of the mistakes I’ve made. I wonder if I would have had the heart to leave now. I recently realized that in all my musings about my future, I always end with some sort of “and then I’ll settle down” phraseology. For instance, “I would love to just live a life of travel and make that my career, then one day, I guess I’ll settle down in Los Angeles or New York or something.” Honestly, I have absolutely no desire to “settle down.” Ever. The very idea of settling is completely abhorrent to me. And granted, my mood can change in a second and I am still young, but currently, I get restless after being in one place for three months. Restlessness is in my soul. So why do I still use the phrase “settle down” in any image of my future?
It just goes to show how much the ideals that are instilled in you as a child last through your adulthood. My mother certainly never sat us down and said, “One day you must get married, have children, and live in one place for at least a decade if not the rest of your life.” But since that was always her dream, that was subconsciously not only the ideal future, but also the unavoidable future presented to us. We should most certainly not rush into marriage, we should make the most of our single years, we should follow our dreams and have careers, and then eventually, even if it’s not till age thirty (gasp!), we should get married and settle down and become real adults.
My current challenge to myself is not talking about the distant future. I don’t want to answer the question, “Where will you be and what will you be doing in ten years?” I don’t even want to talk about five years from now. All I can say to that is, I hope whatever I’m doing is awesome. Thank the Lord that the majority of humanity does not feel the need to move and change jobs every six months. The world could not run on people like me. But I no longer tell myself that this is me being young and crazy and wild and free. Here’s a thought: maybe this is just me being me. Some of us weren’t meant to stay. That doesn’t make us any less able to contribute to the world and to society.
I don’t think that’s a concept my mother would have understood. I don’t even know how I would have been able to explain to her my lack of interest in planning my future. And that’s okay, because there are so many things I will never understand either. Some of my best skills are completely the results of her training – my work ethic, organizational abilities, love of nature and animals, knowledge of childcare, and so many other things. I am grateful daily for the things she taught me. But I think the greatest thing I learned from her, whether she intended to teach it or not, was to do what I want with my life. Mother wanted to be a mother, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t live her dream.
Now I feel like my mother is with me everywhere I go, and I smile every time I imagine her shaking her head at all my mistakes and crazy wanderings, knowing that her heart is safely unbreakable. Cheers to the life of an amazing woman.