I left the hospice hours before the end, but we knew it was coming. I held her cold hands and whispered my goodbyes. I told her about Elliott, something I had not been able to share with her when I knew she could hear the words. I couldn’t stand being a disappointment one more time, but in those final moments, I wanted her to know there was another grandchild on the way. I wanted her to know that life would continue, even in her absence.
In the car, I was listening to the playlist I had compiled with the songs mom had chosen for her funeral. I knew it was just days away, and I knew that I was going to play the piano for it, so I wanted to try to numb myself to the songs.
That numbness never came. Songs of freedom don’t dull easily. Songs of life eternal don’t lose their edge quickly.
I cried as I drove the stretch of highway from Pennsylvania to West Virginia. I cried when my dad called a few hours later telling me that she was no longer with us. I cried when I passed the news on to my kids, when I kissed her lifeless cheek in the funeral home, when we placed bumper stickers on her casket.
Last year I didn’t cry on the anniversary of her death. I cry easily, but when you’ve been living in survival mode for a year, it’s hard to predict when those tears will come, and when they won’t. And last year, they didn’t happen. I thought about her, about those final days, but despite the memories, there were no tears.
I have spent a lot of the past year thinking about grief and the ways that we try to avoid feeling it, and while I never want to force emotions, I also don’t want to do anything to stifle them when they show up.
We were at church last night, and the praise band played Chris Rice’s Untitled Hymn. It was one of the songs mom had asked to have at her funeral, and as Rich was singing it, the tears came in a way they had not last year. Deep sobs in my chest, tears falling on my glasses, snot running from my nose. It didn’t bother me. My grief wasn’t pretty, but it was honest, and it felt good to feel it in a way that had been missing last year.
Mom always liked lighthouses. I think they signified hope to her. A reminder that when things were dark or stormy or hard to navigate, there was light and safety ahead.
Allowing myself the opportunity to grieve felt a bit like a lighthouse yesterday. The grief itself wasn’t a safe harbor, but it pointed the way to rest. It was a beacon that helped clear away the fog that clouds my thoughts with accusations of inadequacy, with shame, with regret. By giving myself permission to grieve, I could see that many of those things are amplified in the fog, and I can cautiously navigate them.
It’s been two years since I whispered my goodbyes to my mom. Today I hold that grief close and allow it to lead me to safety and to home.
On Wednesday, I will begin sharing a weekly Lenten devotion with subscribers to my newsletter. If you would like to receive this, head over here to sign up.