This was my first year without a birthday cake. My mom wasn’t here to bake it for me and no one else thought to fill the void. My mother was killed in a car accident this past June. She was the passenger in a car where the driver made a fatal mistake that touched four lives, but only took hers.
And the birthday cake is only the latest in a long line of “firsts” that continues to deepen and widen the void in my life.
There were no “Happy First Day of School” cards for my children. She commemorated everything with a note or a call to let us know we were always in her heart and on her mind.
There was no one to hand out Halloween candy during our neighborhood festivities. She took great joy in this and celebrated in costume.
There was no sous chef by my side as I prepared Thanksgiving dinner. She would have known how to get the potatoes going without blow by blow instructions.
There was no one in the rocking chair watching my children open their gifts on Christmas morning. She was joy personified during this holiest of seasons.
There was no one here to enjoy December 26th with us, one of my most favorite days of the year because I can finally slow down to smell the proverbial roses. She always liked to stay in her pajamas with us as we sat back to enjoy all of the blessings at hand.
And there was no cake.
My mom was eighty. She was spry and active. She was a guiding light in so many people’s lives. I know because the friends and family who streamed through non-stop for two hours during her viewing told me so. And I know because she was a beacon in my life.
It’s true; we had started to make plans for elder care. There were decisions to be made; health could fail at any time. But in one swift motion, I was no longer among the ranks of women sandwiched between caring for their aging parents and their children. Now I was, am, an open-faced sandwich – exposed, unprotected, unshielded, but also freed from the toil of caring for a loved one.
But it is hard to find comfort in that.
People frequently commented and still do:
“You’re lucky you’ll never have to watch your mother’s health fail or her mind go.”
“She’s lucky it was quick and she never had to lose her independence.”
“You’re lucky you had her for that long.”
“She’s lucky she was really living until the very end.”
I must admit, “lucky” does not describe how I feel as I suffer this season of “firsts” without my mother.
I know people mean well, but it would be so much easier on my heart if they “did” well. A simple, “I’ve been thinking about you and your mother, how are you doing?” would suffice.
See, grief is an independent variable. My grief is not lessened or heightened by a list highlighting all of the horrendous things I have avoided. Not suffering other tragedies and heartaches does not lessen this one. Unfortunately, there is enough room in this big, wide world for all grief to exist simultaneously, side by side.
What I can feel is blessed.
When I woke up trembling from the horror of what must have been my mother’s final moments, I remembered the book on my shelf, “To Heaven and Back,” lent to me months before by a good friend. In this book, the author recounted how she was lifted away and spared the pain of her accident and I felt soothed.
When my cousins and aunts stepped in immediately to help with my mother’s services, I did not feel the sting of being an only child so acutely. My family and friends continue to hold me close and lift me up.
When two separate people recounted to me they had seen her the day before she died and she had told them, “If the Lord calls me home tomorrow, I’m ready;” I knew my mother was with our Savior.
Maybe I am lucky in a sense; lucky that so much love and faith can nestle in the void with my grief.