Since October 4, 2016, I’ve written the occasional Facebook update, Instagram caption, email, tweet, journal entry, and Christmas card. However, I have been unable to write write. Well, more accurately, I have chosen not to write write. But with 2016 mercifully making way for 2017, I feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the unavoidable. I simply can’t write about anything, until I write about this.
My mom died on October 4; the very same mom I was able to write about here in present tense, just this spring. Back then, ten lifetimes ago, she was still working and laughing and sassy and loving and generous and wise and wonderful. As I wrote about her, I was acutely aware of just how present tense she was. I cried the first time I read the essay out loud, fully aware that the things I had written were usually saved for eulogies. The essay was better than a eulogy, I reasoned, because she was able to read it and see how much I admired her. And she did read it, and she loved it, and she printed it out and showed her friends.
Then without warning, I was including parts of that essay in her actual eulogy, reading it with my brother at my side, next to her casket, in front of my dad, family, friends, and strangers in a church that was built on the site of the school where my mother served as the last school secretary, and where my husband the preacher was orchestrating a tender, beautiful, perfect-for-Mom service.
Mom’s passing was sudden and wildly unexpected, which of course made for a total nightmare.
(I’m not using “you” to creep you out, but because “I” sounds as if I think I’m the only person this has ever happened to. I’m using the big common “you,” that selfishly provides some comfort from having shared in the universal human experience of life and death, but, really, don’t worry, the “you” here is really me.)
You immediately lament the goodbyes you never had. So many other people get goodbyes, why didn’t you? Then you realize that in order to get the goodbye, your loved one needs to be dying, and that is the last thing in the world you would want. So instead, your jealousy turned to gratitude, and then immediately to disbelief tinged with a teensy bit of resentment that you are in the position of having to be grateful for such a terrible thing. But you are…you are so thankful this woman you loved was fully in the present tense to the very end. And she would have hated being sick; she was good at a lot of things, but being sick was not one of them.
The first hours after the unimaginable becomes real, are fuzzy and clear all at the same time. You’re numb, but you notice every single thing. The days run together, and you are unsure of what to do about anything, or how to manage your horrible thoughts, or your unwieldy emotions or the weirdness of your surroundings. You notice the tears come at strange intervals, which makes you self-conscious about how you are grieving. You understand you are still in shock, and that the worst part is still to come and you sporadically entertain the thought that this was all just a terrible mix-up, and your mother is perfectly fine somewhere, and just wants to come home. You feel sorry for yourself and think about how life will never be the same, and you’ll never be the same, and why are we even born if we’re just going to die? You and your family swap memories, and you cling to each other because you have to, and because you can, and you haven’t been together in this intense of a way, well, ever.
At the very same time you’re wallowing in the muck, you somehow find yourself on the receiving end of the best things humanity has to offer. The purest love and kindness pour over you from your friends and family, and you muster the strength to pour it right back without obligation. But also somehow, some of your greatest comfort and practical help comes from the strangest places…From the man who keeps his shop open late so he can fit your dad for a suit then offers to press his shirt for free before the memorial. From the neighbors who bring wine and the other neighbors who bring breakfast and the other neighbors who haul out the garbage for you. From the cousin you don’t really remember having who finds you a church to use for the memorial since Mom and Dad’s church is getting renovated. From the endless string of people responsible for coffee cakes and hams and pizzas and flowers and the tiny little lady you’ve never seen before who delivers a pot of chili that’s nearly as big as her. From the diner waitress who saw the obituary and came to the service because your parents were her customers and always so nice to her. From the bank teller and the pharmacist who were crushed to hear about Mom, because she was always so nice to them. From Mom’s teenage co-workers who showed up– one even riding his bicycle all over town to get there– because, guess what, Mom was so nice to them.
When you’re perfectly entitled to disappear into grief, you can’t. It’s still not about you. You are suddenly connected to the world in a new way through the absence of someone you loved.
You’re thankful against your will again, because you are overwhelmed with evidence that you were justified in loving and admiring this person, because she impacted people throughout her whole life in ways she never even knew. And you got to be her daughter. And you still get to be her daughter. Present tense.
34 thoughts on “present tense”
Love you, Colleen!
Love YOU, Carolyn!
This sums up so much, and so beautifully. You’ve been on my mind a lot these past few months, because I know just exactly how much it stinks to lose your mom, you friend, that person that was there YOUR ENTIRE LIFE… until they aren’t. Hugs my friend. It doesn’t really get easier, you just get a little bit more used to the sad ache of missing your mom.
Oh Patti, thanks for your thoughts and your insights and your friendship. I’ve been thinking of you and your mom a lot lately. Thank you for your beautiful note. Xoxo
Thank you, Colleen. Absolutely perfect and beautiful.
Oh, thank you so much! And it meant so much to have you at Mom’s service. xoxo
Lovely. I know how proud of her daughter she was, and I think I know a little of the why.
Thank you Fran….that really truly means a lot to me.
Sent from my iPhone
The greatest gift of all was having a mother that you loved so much and that loved you so much. That is not universal and it is a true blessing. That love has defined you in all that you do in this earthly life. And you reflect it constantly.
Thank you Kathie. I am truly so thankful for that gift. You are so kind! xoxo
What a beautiful piece to read Colleen! Hugs to you and your family.
Thank you so much Shannon! xoxo
So very sorry for the loss of your mother. I am glad you can find solace in the way she touched your life and those of others. I am also glad to be able to share your lovely reflection with people close to me who have recently lost a loved one, for I feel it will bring them solace.
May your renewed writing be a balm.
Thank you Jennifer, I really appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to reach out.
Love u friend!
Love you too!
Just, tears and hugs. Love you dear friend.
Thank you so much, friend, love you too.
What a beautiful testament, to a life beautifully lived, by a beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing with such pure, raw and undisguised emotion, Colleen. May you always know and remember that He will not leave you comfortless. To quote one of Greg Murai’s songs, Benediction, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you. I am with you always.” Love you pretty lady and hope to see you real soon!
Oh, Colleen…thank you this is beautiful. And oh my gosh, Greg’s songs have hit the perfect note throughout the year. thank you so much for your ongoing kindness. xoxo
I read this a million times! I loved it and love you. So sorry to hear about your mom passing–I feel as though I knew her through you. She is amazing–present tense!
Robynn! Thank you so much – you are wonderful and I love you too! I know you would have gotten a kick out of each other. xoxo
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on losing your mother. We just lost our sweet mother 3 weeks ago. We are still, in denial, living each day in a fog that won’t seem to lift, and allowing each other to lean on one another for solace. My sister shared this with myself and my other 3 sisters tonight. You are a beautiful writer and it honestly speaks to our broken heavy hearts with truth from experience. I’m sorry for your loss and ours and that we can empathize with each other, though I wish we couldn’t. I said today that speaking about my mom helps to ease the pain a tiny bit…like if I can share with you about her beauty-inside and out- maybe she’s not totally gone. Oh what a wicked thing it is to lose a mom. Xo
First of all I am so sorry to hear about your mother. Three weeks, and you are in the thick of it. You and your sisters need each other now more than ever, I’m sure. You will each have your moments where you will need to be strong for the others, and then other moments when they need to be strong for you. Thank you so much for reaching out, I really appreciate your grace, and your kindness, your time, and your openness. For sure, keep talking and sharing about your mother, it really truly helps. I’ve heard from a couple of women this morning who lost their moms three years ago. So with you at three weeks, me at three months, and more at three years…it’s still going to be hard, but it’s not anything we need to carry alone. xoxo
You have such a gift, Colleen, to be able to express so eloquently what so many of us have felt but couldn’t articulate, about lost mothers (or fathers). Thank you for sharing this gift with us, and God bless you.
Kathy, thank you so so much! You are so kind, and I really appreciate you taking the time to read and reach out. You are often in my thoughts, knowing you have been through it, and you are so generous with your love and your gifts. God Bless You! xoxo
I am so sorry about your loss, Colleen. I have a friend that used to say, “Keep your ‘I love yous’ up to date.” Your relationship with your mom and the words you wrote (and shared with her) are certainly a testament to your doing that. To be so certain of a daughter’s love, devotion, and appreciation…what a gift. Sending love as you travel this path. xoxoxo
Thank you so much Molly! Keeping your I Love You’s up to date is such wonderful advice, and I am so so thankful I had with my mother…and I’m trying to do more of that. Probably to the point where people think I’ve lost my mind a little bit. :)You are so kind for reaching out like this thank you. Much love to you and your sweet family! xoxo
I love this and can relate to every word. My sister shared this with me. It’s is comforting to know we are not “I” but “you”. We are human together. I lost my dear, adorable, sweet, funny, wise, wonderful mom quite suddenly too this past December. My dad couldn’t make it to the memorial as he was in the hospital recuperating. I am now taking care of him and his broken heart which may not last long! Thanks for writing this!
Thank you Alison, and most importantly I am so so sorry for the loss of your mom. And to have your dad in the hospital? Oh my gosh, it must feel like just too much during some moments. Thank you so much for reading and reaching out. Sending lots of love to you and your sister.
Colleen… you are a beautiful writer, and a beautiful person. No wonder you had such a special relationship with your mom. It sounds as if she transferred all her wonderful qualities to you and that is the special connection you will always share. Those shiny dimes you find are her shiny spirit reminding you who you are.❤
Sheila!! Thank you so much for reading and for this beautiful note. You’re such a lovely support – I truly appreciate you!