Today is my mom’s birthday. I wrote that sentence and immediately questioned my grammar. My mom passed away eight years, eight months, and twenty-five days ago. Today would be my mom’s birthday…if she were still here. I did have to pause and count the years, months, and days. I do not sit around keeping track of that on a daily basis. From time to time, though, it is good to sit for a minute and count. To remember…
Some days it seems longer than that; other days, it seems like just yesterday that I sat next to her bedside after she had taken her last breath.
Some people live life as if tomorrow may never come. They throw all caution to the wind, and they live. Before my mom’s cancer diagnosis (which came six months prior to her death), she already lived that way. There was always a new project, a new class, and a new friend. After she died, I spent years cleaning out her belongings because there was simply so much to go through – halfway finished cross-stitching, crates of projects, and books…so many books.
When my mom died, she had come to terms with it. She did not feel punished by it necessarily, and she did not exactly welcome it (although by the time it came, she had so much pain from the cancer that it was likely a relief). But she had accepted it. She had a strong faith that Jesus and had died for her sins and that she would go to heaven to celebrate life with Him.
Every once in a while, I ask myself if I have come to terms with her death and if I have accepted it. I have that same faith; I believe very strongly that she will be in the presence of her Lord. Having that certainty is comforting – no doubt – and I do not doubt God’s goodness just because she is no longer with us. I do not understand why she had to die at such a young age, but I understand that we all do die. I am not sure any of us die at the time when our loved ones think it is the right time. I also do not think that a “right” time for my mom to die could have ever come.
Life does not stop just because someone passes away, but I think our current society does not know how to mourn well. To a certain extent, I would like to adopt some of the Jewish customs of mourning. I particularly would have appreciated the shiva time – the one week of mourning following the burial of the deceased. During this time, extended family members and friends visit the home of the deceased where the first degree relatives gather for the week. One of the most compelling parts (to me) of the shiva tradition is that those close family members of the deceased are not the one who entertain the visitors nor are they obligated to greet or talk to the visitors.
Those who visit do so to care by being present with those who mourn.
Ministering through presence to those who grieve also seems to be a lost art. I do not do it well. I want to speak words of encouragement or share from my own experience. I need to learn to shut up and sit down next to those in mourning and just be quiet with them or to listen…but mostly, I just need to allow them to be what they need to be. Mourning has its own face in each of us, and we need to learn to allow those faces their places in our society.
Other parts of Jewish tradition concerning the death of parents that I feel particularly drawn to include those that commemorate the parent’s death each year in a special way – with a lighting of a candle or with fasting. The concept of fasting on a parent’s “death day” makes me think of a way to empty myself once again, to remember deeply, and to then break the fast the next day and celebrate that life is still here and must be lived. Pausing to remember is good. Having time set aside to do this allows us to give mourning a place, to recognize it, and then to move away from it and continue to live.
In giving death its due recognition as something that happens, as something that causes pain to those who remain, and as something that we all will experience, we can learn to live. Today may very well be our last – not because we have cancer diagnosis but because death can surprise us in any way. Knowing that, recognizing that, and accepting that should free us to live.
What are you living for today?
What life-changing, soul-inspiring, and breath-taking moment awaits you?
Even if she is not here, it is my mom’s birthday, and she would want us all to celebrate…