My mother died on a Wednesday in September almost 13 years ago at the age of 66. Lauren, my youngest, was almost 6 years old at the time . They were very close. Lauren actually reminds me of mom a lot. They both shared a kindness towards people in need that I think is rare. But beyond that, they both empathize with people deeply. I can see a person hurting and in need and help them, mom and Lauren felt what they felt. They hurt when other people hurt. They are affected by other people’s pain immediately and, sometimes, damaged by it.
Mom had been sick for weeks before her death. We knew it was serious. I had talked to Lauren about it but I knew she didn’t understand. I wasn’t to sure I did either. I was so not interested in a world without my mom. I felt like I was about to fall into a hole I would never get out of. But I had a family. And they needed me. It wasn’t until mom left the hospital that I knew she was going to die. She wasn’t better, she just left. I knew then that she just didn’t want to die at the hospital.
At the funeral Lauren wanted to stay to herself. Her eyes watered the entire time, but she didn’t cry out loud. I knew she was trying to get her head around what was happening. I let her stick close to her brothers and sisters. It was such a terrible day. I myself tried to be strong for the kids. Beyond that I don’t remember a thing about it while I write this. I don’t know if we had a rosary or a viewing. I know we were at the church for the funeral, but I don’t remember a thing about it. I don’t know who was there, who gave the eulogy, or anything else about it. I do remember that mom was wearing make up and that bothered me. Mom never wore make-up. Most everything else is literally missing from my memory. I know I should remember but I don’t. Except for one little piece. At sometime during the funeral I saw Lauren step over to a table and pick up a sheet that had mom’s obituary and a picture of her. She then got a pencil from the table and wrote something on the back of it. She turned it back around and stared at my mom’s face for a long time. She then rubbed her little fingers over moms picture and then gently kissed it. I remember that vividly. And I remember I cried out loud for the first time that day.
After it was all over we all went home. Visiting family said their goodbyes and we were left to a world without my mom. The days after a death of a loved one have no name. You can’t Google them. No one can explain it to you so that it makes any sense. It’s not just grief. Things aren’t real yet and there is no time table for them to become real. It will just happen by itself and it will happen when it happens and not a moment before. It’s a numbness that is everywhere, but nowhere. I walked around telling myself that everything is okay but I cursed the world for going on like if nothing happened. The sun and moon make their appearance with no regard as to what you have to say about that. Your world has ended but the world has not. I was pissed for days at that.
Days after the funeral Lauren didn’t seem herself yet. We were all still sad and would stay that way for awhile, but she seemed different. She didn’t leave my side at all. I tried talking to her but she wouldn’t say anything. That night I checked on her in her room. She was asleep, but she was also crying softly. I reached to wake her, but then decided not to and sat by her side on the bed and watched her for a while. She was still a baby, I thought. I stroked her blonde hair and felt how thick it was. I remembered how during the first year of life she had almost no hair at all. It was so thin and sparse and I was real worried. It honestly just looked liked patches of hair had fallen off her head. But then, when I wasn’t looking, it grew out thick and gorgeous and hasn’t stopped growing. Her eyes, which started out blue, later became a soft hazel.
I didn’t know what to make this crying in her sleep. I figured it was still about mom, but what should I do? She was asleep and I did not want to wake her. Slowly the crying stopped. Every once in awhile she took an exaggerated breath, but she seemed better. Anyway, what could I tell her that I hadn’t told her already? Grandma loved her and she loved grandma and that was a beautiful thing. Nothing could ever take that love from her and she knew that. And if grandma could have stayed with her forever she would have. There was nothing else to say. I looked over at her nightstand and saw my mom’s obituary. It’s strange how we try to put a persons life into a few words to mark their last day. Who they are and where they were from. A list of who went before them and who they left behind. All neatly written into the space of a column or two of a newspaper. It seems so important and yet so trivial at the same time. It seems like so much and yet so little, so late.
I picked it up and looked at her picture. I missed mom so much. She was really an angel all my life. I never, not once, heard her say a mean thing about anyone, even people that deserved it. All she knew was how to be a good person. It came to her as naturally as breathing did. Everyone that knew her loved her.
I decided to just let Lauren sleep and got up to leave. I reached to put the obituary in her nightstand drawer and I noticed some writing on the back. I remembered that I saw her write something on the back at the church. I read the numbers 66-40=26. The 66 and the 40 were in Lauren’s handwriting but the rest wasn’t. After a few moments of staring at the numbers, my heart sank. I realized that somehow Lauren had gotten it in to her head that I would live as long as my mom. A small child’s logic. She had taken my mother’s age and mine and got someone to do the math for her. In her mind she had figured out how long I had to live. I would die in 26 years.
I stepped out into the hallway and sat down on the floor and got teary eyed. Poor baby. She had not only lost her grandma, but in the midst of it all thought she had figured out when I would leave her too. I could not imagine what was going on in her little head and heart. My heart was breaking.
I have always protected my children. In that moment with Lauren I truly realized that the only thing I cannot do for them is stay with them forever. That is the one thing I cannot protect them from. I’ve always known this, of course, but I had never felt it like I felt it that day.
I decided to give it time. There are so many other things left for her to learn. There are other deaths in life. Death of innocence, of love, of lust for life, and the list goes on. Tragedy creeps into even the most blessed of lives and there is no way around it. But there is also love. That wonderful and powerful emotion that can make everything right again and change the world around us. Her life has just begun and there is so much good and bad waiting for her and the rest of my kids, including my death. Though I would hope that by the time that comes around they will be more prepared than that little girl in the next room crying in her sleep, marking the days in her heart.
And I? Well, I can only hope to make it to Lauren’s guess. But who knows? I just might pass it. It’s a mystery. But what I do know is that those numbers on the back of that angel’s obituary were written in the truest love of the purest heart of that little girl, and if I can just hold on to that love, I have already lived forever.