Columns, Grace Notes

Orphaned

Jean Johansson

My mother’s death on April 6, sixteen years after my father’s death, was my initiation rite into the world of the orphaned adult. Mom died exactly three weeks shy of her 97th birthday.

When she took her last breath, gone was the only person who had known me from the very beginning, who had memories of me that my mother alone could have. Irreplaceable. I had been steeling myself since childhood for the day she would die, but when she did, the 63-year-old woman that I am immediately dissolved into a 5-year-old child.

I have been deeply grieving my mother’s death, even as I give thanks for the wealth of years in which I shared her presence, and for her sharp mind and relative good health right up until the end of her life. The workings of my psyche as I grieve, and the magnitude of the impact her death has had on me, have shaken me.

Her death is, after all, the natural order of things. It is disorienting, and can be embarrassing (depending upon whom I am with) to be in control one minute, and sobbing the next, after seeing or thinking of something that triggers a memory and freshens my feeling of loss.

When I attend worship at church, the service can either comfort me or make it impossible for me to be composed for more than three minutes at a time. There is an empty place in the pew where she always sat next to me.

The bouquet of flowers from my garden that I left at my mother’s grave on Memorial Day included a sprig of bleeding heart blooms, the perfect symbol of how I am feeling.

I have had the experience of thinking about my mother, or looking at a photo of her, and feeling a jolt that can only be described as fear, realizing that she truly is gone. As crazy as it sounds, I feel like I’ve lost my safety net, because she was always there, no further than a phone call away. The bouquet of flowers from my garden that I left at her grave on Memorial Day included a sprig of bleeding heart blooms, the perfect symbol of how I am feeling. My days pass like time outside of time.

The gift of grace during grief

The paradox is that, since my mother died, she is nowhere, and yet, everywhere. I yearn for her hug, her voice, her face in the window of her back door and the wave of her hand as I drive away in my car. None of that is possible. But I also feel like I carry her with me, and her presence can be palpable.

So, where is God in all of this? As always, God has come to me in the guise of others. As I have tried to integrate the reality of my mother’s death into my life I have received the gift of grace from many who are acquainted with grief, as they have shared their experiences of loss. That has made me realize that my experiences while grieving are not unique.

People have graced me with heartfelt words of sympathy, an unexpected hug, the comfort of food, or a card or email sent to tell me they continue to think of me and hold me in prayer, understanding how difficult these days are for me. My initial thoughts that my age, or my mother’s when she died, should have cushioned the pain I’m feeling have proven to be senseless. I have learned much about consoling grief-stricken people in the future through the care I have received in the present.

Ultimately, the promise of resurrection is what will lead me through this period of transition in my life. There have been times since my mother’s death when I have believed more strongly than ever before, mostly because I simply have to in order to be able to move through the day. At other times, the doubts have crept in.

Could something as implausible as resurrection possibly exist? That is when I am reminded of the nature of faith, and the true meaning of hope.

Tags: , , ,