There is a price to pay for being born to older parents—and that is to lose them sooner than most. I have peers who have lost their dads, and I have friends who have lost their moms, but I can’t think of anyone I know that is my age that has lost both. Not even thirty and by the world’s standard, I am an orphan.
I had my daddy in my life for sixteen years and two days. And I had my mama in my life for twenty-eight years, nine months and one day. And now I’ll keep them in my heart forever, until I see them again. After my daddy passed, I had to learn how to navigate our new relationship, and in some ways, I think it’s stronger in some ways now than it was before his death. I treasure the things he gave me—most aren’t “things”—and I try to share these precious gifts with others. Like his love for learning and for laughing.
I’m figuring out this relationship with my mama, now that’s she’s gone, too. Things like watching her favorite movies (Terms of Endearment), or listening to music she liked (Patsy Cline), or eating Mexican food (fajitas without the tortillas), and loving people for themselves, for how they define themselves rather than how the world defines them. It’s through memories, old and new, that I keep her spirit alive here.
The last few weeks have happened so fast while moments within them have dripped like a faucet left running for a snowstorm. I use that metaphor because this winter has been truly bitterly cold. I love winter, but Mama hated when it would get this cold, so I think it’s an appropriate image to describe how her life receded away from the shores of this world. And my friends were right when they said it was appropriate that it would snow (rather than rain) during her funeral, the ground receiving the soft feathery kisses. There are so many memories I associate with the snow, and now this will be another one. A good one and a bad one. I know I’m using lots of different metaphors all mixed together, but it feels right because water, in all its forms, is so often used to explain and experience the faith we have in Christ, our physical birth and our rebirth. It is true what they say: the days are long, but the years are short. That’s made in reference to children being young, but I think it accurately describes our relationships during our moment (yes, moment) on this earth. Drip…drip…drip…and suddenly, there is a flood sweeping it all away. I feel that way, too. There are moments when I am flooded with overwhelming emotions, my eyes brimming and then overflowing with tears and I can’t control anything for a time until I catch my breath. But worst are the longer and longer periods where I don’t feel much of anything, outside of feeling like I have forgotten to do something, or something is missing. It’s like one of us has gone on vacation, except this time, it’s Mama who has gone away.
At death, moments that didn’t mean anything at the time are recalled with crystal clarity. Just last week, I was almost been brought to tears at the Hyundai dealership because she was there when we bought our car. It’s harder being home and back to a routine because there’s less freedom to indulge those emotions or lack thereof. People continue to ask how you are doing and if they can do anything, but the automated responses are given a bit faster than the week before and the week before that. There’s work to be done, and while there are still tears to be shed, they can (and sometimes must) wait for the calm and the quiet. I am so thankful for the family and friends who have provided support to me, Zach, and my brother—my aunts and uncles for being there in the truly hard and mortal moments, for helping make plans and share burdens, for letting me know it’s okay to smile and laugh; my cousins who grieve the aunt Gracie they lost; my friends, so many friends, who were there to cry and pray with us and for us, to help me take care of my mama and myself, to bring me chocolate and food, to loan me clothes, to take us out lunch or bring us dinner, to send cards and flowers and gifts to offer some comfort.
I guess I am supposed to be mad at the cancer that took my mother’s life within a few weeks and just days after a diagnosis, but I’m not even mad, not yet. Maybe that will come with time. Maybe I’ll even have the audacity to be angry with God for a while. But instead, I think on what a fallen world we live in. I think that, even if we have favor on our lives from the moment of birth, we are still here and we will still die someday. Nothing bad or evil is of God. He created all things to work for His good. A lot of people comfort themselves by saying it’s God’s will that they are sick. Well, I say to that—it’s nonsense! Literally NO SENSE! God wants us to be healthy and well, but the thing is—we live in a sick world. However, He can redeem anything that is corrupted here, so long as He is chosen. God is in the spiritual business. The problem is, our flesh can tear us down, even spiritually, if we let it. All it is, in terms of mass, is mostly water with the dam waiting to be broken or shored up. We came from water (the deep) to become solid (as a human being) but will return as air (as just a spirit, our inner most being).
Living here, separated from God, is the cost of being human creatures. And death (spiritual and physical) is the price we pay to live again—though we may be separated from those we love here for a time. Just for a time. Really, when you think about it while trying to see forever, a lifetime is not so long. “They” also say that youth is wasted on the young, but recently, I heard that it’s actually maturity that is wasted, wasted on the old. As I watched my mama slip away, I couldn’t help but count my regrets and wasted opportunities, times I turned from her or against her, while I tried to hold onto those very precious hours with both hands as I finally realized what an hour with a loved one really meant. It’s priceless.
I’m so thankful I got to spend that week in the hospital with my mom. I wish we could have had more weeks, even days, like that, doing things she enjoyed. But we did get in a lot of talks and watched a lot of TV and movies, simple things we loved when I was growing up. We watched Steel Magnolias one of those days she was in the hospital. I can’t help but think of M’Lynn telling her friends: “I find it amusing. Men are supposed to be made out of steel or something. I just sat there. I just held Shelby's hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh god. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”
I left my mama, but I promised I would be back. And I did come back. I got to hear her say, “I love you,” one more time, and I got to tell her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her for how hard she worked, and then I told her she could go because we would be okay and take care of each other. And we will. I will always miss my mama, but I wouldn’t give anything to have her here again. She is with her Redeemer. She truly lives because He lives. And for the time, I live here and carry on.
In memory of Gracie Irene Byrd
Sept. 29, 1944-Feb. 2, 2014
Rest in peace, Mama. Rest in love.