one year later

A year ago today I stood in front of a mirror and teased my hair into a perfect coif. I remember thinking it was the best one I had ever done, and with that came the sinking feeling that it didn't matter because she wouldn't see me.

I pulled on the dress that my sister had helped me pick out the day before. I hadn't brought anything nice with me that weekend. Had even forgotten my cell phone. Just focused on getting home. Holding her hand that always looked so perfect. Sitting with her. Stroking her silky hair. Straining to hear every word, and hoping that they would string together enough that I could understand her. That I could help her. That she would know I was listening and that I was trying to make it better. Trying to find something, anything, that could bring her comfort.

The dress swept the floor it was so long. It was equal parts glamorous and moody. All black. My Mother would have been appalled if she had seen it. She hated the color black. There weren't any other dresses that were even halfway appropriate for the occasion when we went shopping in my small hometown. This was the only one that even came close to looking like it should be at a funeral. I had been nervous at first, thinking it was too dressy. Then I realized I didn't care... about anything.

I wondered when I would learn to care about anything ever again.

Dress on. Shoes. Hair glued down with the local drugstore's cheapest. Makeup borrowed from whoever was willing to hand it over. Then I put on her ring. The same ring I wore to her wedding. Inside it had pictures of our family. All of us together. All of us smiling. 

My sister and I had purchased the largest sunglasses we could find. I needed to feel like something could protect me that day.

Friends made bouttineires for each of the family to wear. In purple, her favorite color.  I pinned one on each of my siblings... all 7 of them. I kissed each one and said 'Mommy loves you so much.'

Then I held my children. The grandchildren she would never see grow up. My oldest that she always called 'hotshot.' She was at his birth. She held him almost as soon as he was born. He knows her in pictures when he sees her. My 4 month old that had been nicknamed 'chuck.' She had barely gotten to know him. Had been too weak to hold him when she met him. So he had napped with her in her hospital bed. And every time I saw them napping together, a piece of my heart ached wondering if that was all he would ever know of her.

And it was. And there we were. Ready to walk out the door to men dressed in tuxedos and in shiny long black cars. Cars that you always saw and never, ever, wanted to be in.

We sat in the fellowship hall of our little baptist church. Our extended family surrounded us and kept telling us how great we looked. Everyone searching for words. Nobody having the right ones.

Then it started. The longest walk of my life.

I held my Father's right hand. My sister held the left. It was eerily silent as we walked across the asphalt. Our heels clicking. It was ominous. It was horrible.

My heart raced as the doors opened, and I saw straight down the aisle. The aisle that I had walked down thousands of times in my life. The aisle that showed us to our family's row... the first one on the right. I think my parents picked it so everyone would see if we misbehaved in church.

And there it was. The box that we had picked for her. It was beautiful with it's wood and rose gold. And the details on it reminded us of the woodwork in our house. And we picked it hoping it was beautiful enough to hold our precious Mommy, but not too beautiful that she would be mad and think we were being frivolous.

And everyone was standing and staring at us.

And I thought, dear God no. This can't be right. It's not happening. Not to me. Not to her. Not to US.

Up to our spot - the front right pew. It creaked as all of us sat on it. 8 kids. 5 significant others. 3 grandchildren, one due only one month later than that day. And one heartbroken spouse.

I can count on one hand the number of times my Father cried in my life. That was, until the day they told us she was sick. Not a single one of us has stopped crying since. 

My glasses still donned, I listened as the sermon began. And I heard the songs we had picked for her. The sermon of how much she meant to us all and how she would be missed. My brother read the tribute written by all of us children. He didn't break even once and I knew he was tapping on some inner strength she had to have given him.

At some point in a song I was staring at her casket. And I realized that it was ok if my dress was too much because our town store didn't have anything between that and a miniskirt. And I realized that it was ok that I hadn't slept at all the last 4 days and everyone knew it. And it was ok that all I had to eat the last year was hospital food and fast food, and I had just had a baby, and my body was barely keeping it together.

It was ok if I wasn't good enough. Not good enough to make her better. Not good enough to save her. 

And I took off my glasses because I didn't want to hide anymore. I didn't want to have a shield up, a pretense that implied I was ok. That it was ok that she was gone. That it was ok that everything had fallen apart. That our family of 10 that was the height of familial perfection to me was permanently shattered.

It was ok that I didn't hide my tears. And I openly wept. And I looked awful. And I felt awful.

But it was ok. Because her sickness and her death showed me that my openness about my pain and my inability to make the situation better had allowed me to gain from others and them to gain from us. Those years of my life, watching her suffer, watching her die, changed me irreparably. And I finally made the choice to stop hiding and to start saying 'No, I'm not ok. It's not ok. And for now, that has to be ok.'

Sometime during the last song the power went out. There wasn't a drop in the air when we walked in, but during the sermon a brief shower came and knocked the power out. The singer, unphased, sang the rest of the song acapella. And I swear to you it was the most beautiful sound I've ever heard.

And then, all too soon, it was time. My six brothers stood, all dressed so sharply in their suits, and they carried her casket down the aisle. And I heard myself crying aloud. 'Mommy! No!'

Then we held hands and followed it.

And as we walked outside we realized that the rain had cooled the weather down. And the sun was out. And the bagpipe player began to play. One of her favorite things ever was a bagpipe.

It was so achingly perfect. And it hurt so much.

We walked to the hole where her bright purple vault was receiving her casket. We sat directly in front of it as they delivered the final words. My sister and I took off our bouttineirres and placed them on the casket, kissing it as we did and whispering 'I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my Mommy you'll be.'

Then all of a sudden it was over and people swarmed around us. Hugs and tears and I can't believe she's gones.

And I walked to the edge of the group and started looking for the rainbow. The promise that this was part of some divine plan, and that God, and her, were watching.

And I saw nothing.

I had always thought my Mother deserved a party. Something where everyone showed up and talked about how great she was and how much she was loved. She got it. But she didn't get to attend it.

Soon people left, and it was just us standing around the hole. The men came with shovels and commented 'I've never seen a purple vault before!' To which my Father replied 'Then you've never buried royalty before.'

It took a thousand years for them to lower her and cover her with dirt. Each shovel of dirt was placed so carefully. So gently. It was reverent and I was deeply grateful for their kindness in that simple task. 

And then the ground was patted down, and it was done. 

She was gone.

And here I am a year later. I cry as I write this, because I'm still not ok. I've missed her every day. I have picked up the phone to call her almost every day. I've wished I could go back and say more in the right times, and say less in the wrong times. I've obsessed about the 'what if we had...' even though I know we did. We tried everything we could.

And it wasn't good enough.

And I wonder how I can be a Mother, without one. I saw her do it (she lost her own Mother around my age), and I always thought it looked awful. And now I'm here. I can't call her for advice. I can only guess what she would say. And every day her face gets dimmer and her voice is harder to hear. And I struggle to try and see her in my every day. To know she's still here. To feel that she didn't go away completely. To know that I'm not truly without a Mother.

Yet I am.

But I also remember that I got to have one. I got a Mother that loved me. That gave up everything so that I could have the best education and best life she could imagine. That sacrificed her hopes and dreams for mine.

That taught me that we can never know people's hidden hurts and when they act ill toward us to show compassion to them. Just like Christ does for us.

That made me homemade granola for breakfast, cheesecake for every birthday, and tea for girls nights. That loved old movies and a good romantic story. That donned dresses and skirts and believed that beauty should be pure and simple, without fuss. That showed me by her actions that it's always better to be kind than to get even. That handmade her cards, and created her presents. That put heart and soul into everything she touched.

So one year later, while I'm still grieving, and I'm still angry... I can say that a very small piece of me is starting to embrace the gratitude that I got her for a little while.

And one year later, on my drive up to visit her grave yesterday, the most incredible rainbow I've ever seen spanned the sky and touched the road we were driving on. I keep asking for signs... Should I just open my eyes more?

Mommy, I miss you every day. I wish I could talk to you. Hear you. Less of me. More of you. It's not right without you and it never will be. I hope you hear this. I hope you know I'm sorry. I hope you know I love you so much.

As long as I'm living, my Mommy you'll be.

<< To read my family's tribute to Robin Hancock's life, please go HERE >>