Friday, January 30, 2009

Learn to live without the piece that's missing

There are days I just don't feel the funny. This was one of them.

(originally published August 13, 2008)

This one is for my mom.
A woman whose strength amazes me.
A woman who taught me that laughter helps ease many troubles, but sometimes it takes tears to heal a soul.


***

Kids say the funniest things.
And in their innocence, they also say the things that break your heart.


I stood in the swimming pool and gripped my three-year-old son around his waist, prepared to hoist him high up in the air.

“Throw me high, Mommy!” he squealed. “Throw me so high that Grandpa can reach down from heaven and catch me!”

His words – uttered so unexpectedly as we splashed and played under the summer sun – just about stopped my heart.

Once, when he spotted the extension ladder leaning up against the wall of the garage, he asked me, “Will that ladder go all the way to heaven so I can see Grandpa?”

And when a fierce summer storm rumbled through the air and thunder shook the house, he tried bravely to hide his fear by saying, “Grandpa must be bowling again. He sure is making a lot of noise up there.”

And that’s when it hits me. All over again. As if, somehow, I could have forgotten my dad’s death amidst the crazy business of life and family and work.

The fatal heart attack took him from us a year ago. Some days it seems like yesterday. Other times it feels like a lifetime. Who knew time could be cruel?

***

She sounded so tired.
As she talked on the phone and told me about her day, my mom’s voice shook with exhaustion. Maybe pain. Certainly grief. And heartache.


It reminded me that my mom, like all great parents, becomes more vulnerable as time goes by. It’s a shock to learn our parents aren’t the superheroes of our youth, invincible to pain and anger and fear.

With the wisdom of adulthood you realize they haven’t been softened by time, haven’t grown weaker by circumstances. They’ve always been that way – human.

But as children, we don’t see it. They are our pillars of strength who battle the evils of the world and pick us up when we fall.

The parent takes care of the child.

But there comes a day when the unthinkable happens and life is rocked to its very core.

And the child takes care of the parent.

***

It was a year ago when I walked through the door and took one look at my mother’s face.

It was so pale, streaked with tears, the physical embodiment of grief, an image forever etched on my heart.

She hugged me tight, whispered, “He’s gone. My best friend is gone.” Then she collapsed in my arms.

I could only hold her and rock her gently as she sobbed, the grief shuddering through her body.

The child takes care of the parent.

***

Then – as if life wasn’t cruel enough, didn’t feel as if we had suffered enough – tragedy struck again with my grandmother’s death.

In the span of a few short months, my mom lost her husband and her mother. Both losses were sudden and without warning.

Things are supposed to be easier to handle when it happens quick, right?

Ripping off a band-aid is better than gently peeling it from the skin. Jumping into a swimming pool is better than sitting on the side and dipping in a toe.

Nothing about a sudden death is ever easy.

Like a knife that swiftly, brutally slashes away a part of your soul, you can’t prepare for it.
You only hope to heal and learn to live without the piece that’s missing.


***

Sometimes I’m so scared I could drown in the fear.
Afraid of losing someone else. My husband. My son. My mom.
My life is always one second away from another loss.


But then I take a long look at my mom and am witness to her strength.

She won’t tell me about the rough days. Those times when it’s difficult to get out of bed to face another day.

She won’t tell me how hard it is to run the family farm by herself.
She won’t tell me about dealing with a flat tire or the house needing a new roof.
She won’t tell me what it’s like to cook for one and sleep alone after 40 years of marriage.


So from her I find my own strength to move past the fear.
Life is too short not to.
You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

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