Dear Mom, I love and miss you

Five years ago today my mom passed away. I can’t even believe it now, after all of this time. There are still moments when a flash of a thought passes through my brain and I think ‘I still have a mom’. Its hard to explain, but for an instant I will feel whole, and then I’ll remember that a piece is missing and never coming back. Sometimes I’ll pick up the phone thinking to tell her something and I’ll remember. I know that sounds crazy but she is so a part of me and my subconscious that deep down I still think she is there. I still think I have a mom.

Today I spent the day with my dad and daughter. We decorated his Christmas tree. It was a mix of emotions. With my daughter now walking one of us had to be on baby duty while the other decorated. So I ended up doing most of the decorating while my dad took baby around the house, and took her outside to explore. It was quiet and gave me time to reflect on my childhood. Each ornament had a story, a memory, and all of her. I could hear my father gently guiding and encouraging her in the other room and it was such a mixture of emotions: such joy at hearing them together, and such sadness for his loss, for my loss, for my daughter’s loss. For my mother. I felt as if I would burst, from joy, and pain, and longing, and sadness, and anger, and gratitude.

The closing lines of American Beauty always resonated with me. I could really relate to the description of the pain of joy. Now, after experiencing such loss and such joy, it has a whole new place in my mind, heart and soul:

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.

Decorating the tree today was significant. That was the last thing we did as a family, and the last time I saw, spoke, hugged, my mom. It was a rough semester, my second year in grad school and I had a full plate. We had one week left to go and my sister and mom INSISTED we get together for dinner and the Christmas tree decorating on Sunday the 8th. I was very reluctant because I was so bogged down with work. I remember arguing with them on the phone about it and telling them that they could only have the afternoon. Not the whole day.


My husband and I went up there, decorated the tree, had an early dinner. My nephew was only 2 and he kept handing my mom ornaments one after the other, before she had time to hang them. He kept saying “granma marget, granma marget’ over and over. And she would respond ‘yes Gavin?’ By the end of the night she was tired. I remember her laying on the couch with her arm over her head and her feet up. It wasn’t like her to be that tired. She never let on to us that she was feeling run down, she kept up a brave face. But looking back I see some of the signs, she was always tired, and a bit worn looking. She was struggling but didn’t want to burden us.

Before I left, she helped me look at health insurance plans and gave me some advice. Such a mundane end. I gave her a hug and told her I loved her. I had an inkling to get on her about something she said she was going to do but I held back, and I am so thankful for that. My husband and I drove away and laughed at the day. We had quite a few arguments between the family that day, tensions were a bit high, but overall it was a good day. We said something about the ‘Rankin Family Circus’ and laughed our way home. Little did I know.

I sent her an email the next day (Monday the 9th), we were talking about Christmas gifts, but we didn’t speak on the phone, we never spoke again. On Tuesday the 10th I saw an event was canceled that she had planned that evening and I sent her a text

‘Uh oh. You’re not sick are you?’ so casual, so unconcerned. Of course she never responded. By that point she was probably being checked into the hospital, within a few hours she would be unconscious, and never return. But I didn’t know.

I was in class all day. Literally. I had three seminar classes back to back which meant 3, almost 3 hour classes. I didn’t check my phone again until the classes were all over. 8 30 pm. The last class had run late, it was the last one, all of my assignments but one were turned in for the semester. I was so relieved. I could breath.

My phone was full of missed calls. The most recent text, from my sister read: CALL DAD. I remember walking across the pedestrian foot bridge over Virginia Street. I entered the bridge excited, it was snowing, I was almost done with the semester, my advisor just asked me if he could use my work in a publication, I wanted to tell my mom. As I walked across that bridge, I called my dad. By the time I got to the other side of that bridge my whole life had changed.

My sister and I drove together to the hospital. We tried to make small talk on the drive, there was a lot of nervous laughter. It was dark, and snowy, like we were in a tunnel, a tunnel we would never emerge from. We entered the hospital through the Emergency entrance because it was after hours. We had to check in and get wrist bands. You are supposed to check out when you leave as well, but hours later, when it was all over, we wondered out like zombies and the person manning the desk never asked.

Walking down that hallway and around the corner and up the stairs to the ICU. Sitting in the waiting room because we were not allowed to see her yet. Looking into the eyes of the doctor when he told us that there wasn’t much we could do but pray. How can I even describe it? Can I even remember it? Like another person in another world. Like I was out of my body watching the scene unfold.

You might think to yourself: ‘I could never go through that’ I think that to myself now. But yet I did. I don’t know how. I can’t even tap into how it felt. Maybe that is better. Four years later when I had to check into the same Emergency room entrance and be wheeled down the same hall, up the elevator and passed the waiting room and the ICU doors…it was like I was revisiting that moment, and all I can say is it felt wrong. I couldn’t put it into words.

This is the place my heart lost a piece…how can it now be the place I make my heart whole again? A part of me still felt like it was there, in that waiting room four years later. Moving down the hall towards the labor wing. The hallway I was in, talking with my husband on the phone, through tears telling him they didn’t think she would make it. The hallway where my sister came running toward me.

‘Its happening’ and us running back to her bed side to watch it end. Her life.

And there I was again, passing through the hallway to bring in new life. We walked down that same hallway and passed that waiting room with our new baby the day we left the hospital. And maybe a part of my heart finally left that waiting room too. It came back to me. Not complete but patched. No longer incomplete, but repaired. Like Lenard Cohen says

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in

Maybe it is that my mother leaving was the whole, Claira Mae is the patch, and a crack remains to let in the light.

Be Gutsy! Share the Love!

Amanda Richey