1095 Days Later: ‘I’m Here, No Big Whoop’

“What is so significant about today?” my husband and I wonder.

Today is the day my mom’s spirit was released from her suffering body. Three years ago today, she died.

“Is this a day we want to mark?” we both wonder. And in the parlance of exam essay

It's 3 a.m. and I'm wide awake.

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m wide awake.

questions, “Why, or why not?”

For the last three years, in the wee morning hours of May 7 I have awoken. I rarely awake during the night. If I do, it is usually to roll over and resume sleep. The last three years though, near 3 a.m., I awaken. Fully.

It does not escape me that in these same wee hours, my mother’s spirit made her escape.

Is it a shift in the energy of the universe, revisited at this time, that wakes me up? The extraction of her physical presence and the vacuum that created in my life and the lives of so many others that rouses me from slumber? Is it some spiritual clock my soul has set within me, to go off once a year, a recollection, an alarm.

Is it her thumbprint on my soul, the smooth river stone she placed in my heart, which anchors my soul, full of all her teachings, her love, her goodness and complexities, pressing ever deeper into my memory, my being? Is her spirit nudging it deeper, each year?

I get up hours later and rush to Mass to meet my father and honor her. I’m doing OK until the priest mentions her name, her full name, during the intentions. “Shut up!” I want to yell at him and cover my ears. “Don’t you dare say her name as being gone, departed, dead. Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Instead I sob and think, “My mom is dead. My mom is dead.” 1,095 days later this still seems unreal — and unreasonable.

The priest talks about the dispersal of the apostles after Jesus’ death.

Painting titled 'The ballerina' by Iraqi artist Afeefa al-Aiby from the exposition Arab Culture in the Diaspora.

Painting titled ‘The ballerina’ by Iraqi artist Afeefa al-Aiby from the exposition Arab Culture in the Diaspora.

I think about the many people who loved my mom, who were deeply touched by her love, who treasured her friendship, companionship, her loving heart. Siblings, cousins, her husband, her children and children’s spouses, grandchildren, other family, the families of her children’s spouses, her dear and loyal friends, distant relatives, childhood friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, children of friends, friends of her children, priests, nuns, volunteers, caregivers, doctors, nurses who cared for her, fellow patients, fellow church members, people who have read about her in my writing, before her death and after, the friends who I made simply because we both had dead mothers — all of these part of the diaspora of Judy’s love.

All of these people (and more) came together when she died three years ago, pulled inward by the transition of her spirit. Brought together to commune because of the magnetic energy and power of her love and how she made people feel. And then, they dispersed to all their different nooks, carrying with them that piece of Judy’s love and spirit.

Sometimes I feel sad about the dispersion. But more often I feel impressed.
I feel as if that’s the way it is supposed to be — and maybe the way my mom’s love was always destined to travel.

I am beginning to think that we only fully share what we receive from others, the gifts loved ones instill in us, after they are gone.

When they are living, we can imitate and approximate, but when they are gone, their intention of love becomes part of us, we own it. It activates and becomes a part of who we are and what we are now empowered to bestow on others.

A week ago, I had a dream my mom came walking back into the kitchen of our childhood home, after having been dead for three years. In the dream, I knew she was coming back to life!

She looked great, young and fresh and very calm. I stroked her cheek and marveled that she was whole again, all put back together, in health and beauty and peace.

While I felt shocked and awed in the dream, she was matter-of-fact and serene. Like, “hey, honey girl, I’m here, no big whoop.”

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The Inhumanity of Marriage: A Homage

Standing in our kitchen recently, sorting bills, Mr. Bailey casually mentioned the day before had been his father’s birthday.

My head snapped up from Prima’s fifth grade social studies project, me gauging his emotional temperature accurately enough to decide where this surprisingly casual comment was heading.

(The senior Mr. Bailey died nearly nine years ago at an age well-qualified as “too young.”)

The comment had a peaceful tone, with webs of gossamer memory laced about it. There were no tears, just quiet recognition, and my neck muscles relaxed.

It wasn’t until hours later that the recognition of what the day was — and how it had passed — truly hit me.

****

I had remembered the day and noted it to a friend that afternoon, but had not seen Mr. Bailey long enough to discuss it with him. My head, crowded with thoughts, ideas, to-dos, pushed the recollection aside.

That evening, my Mr. Bailey had been out to a happy hour with friends after work and so had gotten home later than I expected.

Not that I was raging mad — I was just exhausted by the day, which consisted of work early in the morning, a field trip with Secondo’s class, a hurried lunch of peanut butter and jelly while rushing into the office for meetings in the afternoon, followed by school pick-ups, a workout, more work, culminating in dinner and bedtime routines with alternating quibbling and keyed up children.

I had just settled into the couch for more catch up work and guilty pleasure TV when he rolled in.

I admit: my reaction to Señor Bailey’s re-entry was underwhelming.

All I could think of at that moment was that he spent a kid-free, parent-taxi-free day at work, probably met a client for lunch, and ended his day with 4 hours at the bar in the company of four great friends, beer and food. (Did I mention I had eaten tomato soup and a grilled cheese, while standing at the kitchen counter, for dinner?)

OK, so I wasn’t actively angry, but I was annoyed. I was measuring up my day against his. I was chairwoman of the righteous campaign of me. And I was chillier than I could have been. I gave a half-hearted attempt at conversation then resumed my final activities, “as I was.”

And in that moment, I had forgotten all about his dad’s birthday.

If it was on his mind, he didn’t mention it. He was quiet and reserved and retreated to watch baseball in the bedroom.

We do things like this in a marriage. We give, we take, we hold back, we push, we pull, we dance. And sometimes in the very human act of being in this lifetime relationship, we forget to be human.

It’s surprising (albeit common).

It’s surprising a day that was crushing in year one, then heartbreaking in year two, dips unconsciously below the radar in year nine.

****

Once I connected my attitude that night and the significance of the day — I was ashamed. And I got human.

How could I have placed it aside so easily? How could I have been oblivious in those moments when his quiet should have tipped me off?

Did I not remember his dad, his curls fuzzy and black tie loose, dapper and rugged, smiling as he swayed across the dance floor with Mrs. Bailey at our wedding?

Or holding Prima on his lap, his big hand protectively embracing her little belly, his eyes on fire with pride?

Or locking my muscle-bound, mountain-tall Mr. Bailey in his vise embrace of paternal love and safety in a way no else ever could, ever again?

The truth is his father is enigma to me — I was not around him long enough to crack his strong-silent code.

But there are two things about him I know to my core.

First, he believed his greatest accomplishment in life was creating and raising three wonderful sons. (In a moment of heady expression and sincerity he confessed this to me in the middle of a noisy party about a year before he died.)

Second, his greatest accomplishment in life is the greatest joy of mine. And for that, I am forever grateful.