The last photo I took of Mom, sleeping peacefully.
How can it already be that tomorrow marks three years since my mother died? Those last moments in St. Vincent's Comfort Care suite with the early morning sun slipping through the blinds are still crystal clear in my memory, every word, every breath. The difference? Now that gaping hole in my heart has a veneer over it; I can smile and laugh when I talk about my mom, can enjoy the many wonderful memories I have of her. I feel her with me in a way that I can't truly explain, that possibly one can only understand if they have lost someone who was so much a part of their heart. I began as a part of her, and she will always be a part of me.
I have faced many losses in my lifetime, but all have paled in the face of losing my mom. It honest to God felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest when I knew she was gone, and maybe a part of it truly was. I have worked hard to deal with the grief, to learn to live around it, as it never really goes away, but lies in wait for an anniversary or some simple reminder to open that carefully tamped down vault. Time does do its part in healing; the ragged edges of grief become more polished, echoes rather than the turn of a knife. Her death made me stronger yet softer, more compassionate, more grateful. It made me fear death less- but fear the pain of such a loss much more.
I love realizing more and more how much I am like her, how much the lessons she taught me shaped who I am- even though I fought some of those lessons tooth and nail along the way. I see her in my reflection in the mirror, hear her sometimes in my words. When I call on her in times of challenge, I feel her protection wrap around me like some magical maternal suit of armor. I know it is sacrilegious, but it is to my mother that I say my prayers, having no doubt that she has God's ear. I think of her laughing and singing, telling her stories to a group of rapt angels gathered around her.
Most of all on this anniversary of her passing, I feel gratitude for my mother's life, for the woman she was, and the example she set for me. Against all odds, she chose to build a happy life out of the ruins of heartache and loss. She picked herself up with dignity and humor, and created her own story and her own beauty. She was a woman of great faith, even as she doubted her own worthiness. She was generous and kind, sometimes difficult and moody. She was fearless and fearful; a wonderful example of a very real, very flawed woman doing her best to turn a bad situation into a happier one.
I am grateful for a childhood filled with magic, even when she didn't have two nickels to rub together. I'm grateful that she taught me to use my imagination and creativity, that she helped me to believe in myself and my potential, my worth. She made sure that I reached higher, that I would grow into an independent woman who could take care of myself. Most importantly, she always made sure that I knew I was loved and cherished; what greater gift can a mother give to a child?
I have no idea what Heaven is, but I hope it is everything that my mother thought it was. I hope she is with all of her friends and loved ones who went on before and after her, that my dogs- her beloved grand dogs- Guinness and Coops are at her side, and that the chocolate milkshakes flow freely. I can just see it all, and it is such a beautiful sight.