It has taken me a year and a half to write this. Not writing it made it almost seem like it didn’t happen. My mama didn’t die. I thought if I don’t write about it, I could just pretend she’s traveling and that she’ll be back at the end of the month. If I write it, then it’s real. She is in fact gone.
I don’t want to forget anything about her, so I thought to myself, in time, I would be able to write this down when I felt ready. The fact is, no one feels “ready” to face the reality that their loved one is gone. I realized over the past eighteen months that I am not the only one hurting in silence and that maybe my words can help heal others who have lost a loved one. I’ve found the more I share my story with, the more I understand that many others have gone through the same pain I have. We’re in this together. We can help heal each other. So here it goes.
Confession: When I have enough courage to do so, I find a quiet place to listen to the voicemails she left me on my phone. It’s not easy. It’s heart-wrenchingly wonderful to hear her voice again. So chipper. So alive. I cry as I listen to every. single. voicemail. Each one starts with, “Hi, hun!” And I hope and pray to God that I called her back after each one of her messages. I realize now that she loved and missed me so much, and she just wanted to talk. Every parent knows this is true. She just wanted to feel close to me.
I wear her old make up every day because it makes me feel like she’s still here. Her wedding ring will always be on my right hand and its beauty and sparkle reminds me of her bright smile. When my heart literally hurts, I hold her handwritten letters up to my cheek because it makes me feel close to her. I rub my fingers over her writing trying to feel her. To touch her. Sometimes I dream of her. She’s always young and happy. I think it’s her way of saying that she’s just fine up in heaven and that she’s been enjoying watching my boys grow up.
Holidays are always the toughest. My gravy never tastes like hers and probably never will. I’ll be in the middle of one of her recipes, and I’ll come to a point in it where I would reach for my phone to ask her how to do it, but realize I’ll never get to. Martinelli’s Apple Cider was her favorite and it will always be on my holiday table in memory of the years of happiness and full tummies she always provided our family.
One of my favorite memories near the end of her life was the Christmas three days before my son was born. She pulled up in front of my house in her white Toyota Sienna and it was packed to the gills with presents. She and my husband must have made 6 trips out to unload what we jokingly referred to as “Santa’s mini-van”. Little did I know, she thought that would be her last Christmas on this earth.
You see, my mom secretly fought a melanoma and leukemia diagnosis for years before telling me. Bless her heart, she didn’t want to ruin the “best time of my life” being newly pregnant and becoming a mother for the first time. I am still angry at this. I wish I would have known. I wish I could have cried with her. Screamed with her. But my dad said she never showed signs of anger or resentment that she would never get to watch and hold her grandbabies as they grow up. She placed her hope in Jesus and was firmly optimistic that she would beat cancer. And in my mind, she did.
She had the rarest form of melanoma in the world. They gave her “months to live” …and she proved them wrong three years later. You might say, “How did she beat cancer if she died?” Well in those three years she found love again, she got to see and hold three grandbabies, and she was able to touch countless people’s lives in her church and doctor’s offices about her love for God and Jesus Christ. She lived like never before and she loved and modeled the kind of person that I will always strive to be. Her hope was contagious. Her strength was in all sense of the word–incredible. She showed me what really matters in life and I hope to pass this along to my boys.
Of all the things she left behind, none are more valuable than the photographs we have of her. These are some of the last images we took during her fight with cancer. She was still as beautiful as she was when she was healthy. I have no doubt that I will see her again and that she is not hurting anymore, and I am so thankful for the extra time God gave us with her.
I encourage you, please love and hug your loved ones this holiday season. Find and hug someone who has lost someone. Love one another. Days before her death, and the last time I spoke to my mom she left me with her last words of wisdom for me: “The only thing that matters is love and family.”
I love you, mama.
This is the last photo we have of my mama. She’s surrounded by her kids and grand kids about a week before she went to Heaven. We love and miss you, Grammy!