For in passing away my mom gave me her own gift – the gift to follow my dream of finding the stories inside me to be told. And with her death I discovered what forever really is and that our time here on Earth truly is brief. In that moment I knew I had to carve out my own happiness.
So in my grief I began writing and my grief turned to peace and then joy at discovering what I love to do. Write stories. Create characters to love (and hate). And make people feel – all the feelings I’d experienced – love, loss, pain, heartache, torment, joy, and contentment.
While it was heartbreaking to see my mom in her final days, I was also given another amazing gift. The gift of being by her side and helping to take care of her. I will cherish those final moments always as the most precious I’ve ever known.
The way my mom faced her death was an inspiration to me and everyone around her. Not once did I hear her speak in self-pity or anger or ask “Why me?” The dignity and grace by which she sailed through her life – and towards her death – left a wake of sunshine across many of the hearts she touched.
So if she could face death with such confidence, I can surely face life and all its gifts to be found (that sometimes you have to really look hard to find).
Growing up, my mom gave me other gifts as well.
My mom’s smile was more than a smile. It didn’t come from mere happiness – like most smiles – happiness comes from being in good circumstances, but circumstances can change. My mom’s smile came from joy, and joy comes from a place inside a person that circumstances can’t touch. My mom’s joy came from many things I believe – faith in God, accepting life as it happens, embracing the love from her family and friends, and feeling comfortable in who she was.
She liked herself. And that shone out to others. She showed me how to like myself too, and that I was my best friend.
She also taught me independence and was able to let me go when I needed to. When I graduated college I contemplated staying in the area or taking a job out of state. She told me, “As much as I want you here with me – you need to go. You don’t want to end up here your whole life. Get out of here! Do new things, meet new people. It’s time to move on.”
In her last week here I asked her, “Mom, do you have any fight left?”
“Just a little,” she said. “Just a little.”
And I put her to bed then, so thin and frail, her body tired. I smoothed her bony arms and legs. I kissed her head, encased in a cover, her soft curls gone. And she comforted me, whispering back, “It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.”
I read somewhere that those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it for themselves. My mom’s sunshine may have gone out, but she has passed it on to so many. It is up to us to keep it going within ourselves.
Just like the song “Already Gone” by Sugarland, she taught me that “Life is a runaway train you can’t wait to jump on.” And she did that – every day.
There’s also a song by David Wilcox that describes my mom very simply. It’s called “Kindness.”
“I love your wisdom, your knowledge of the past.
Your willingness to listen, your taste for what will last.
I love your compassion for the suffering and your solid happiness,
But it’s your kindness that I love best.”
The gift of time to write – with my work hours now cut in half.
The gift of life – from my son, as I quit smoking to become a mother and then gave up part of my identity, for a while, until I found it again.
The gift of taking the road not taken – the trials and challenges along the way of not following the steady path. Every wrong road, every long road, every rough road. They got me to here. And here is pretty good. It was worth the rocky ride.
The gift of what it looks like to still love someone when someone can no longer love you back.
I’ve been writing a journal to my son since before he was born and one brief entry shortly after my mother died reads simply: “Dear Mom, where are you? I try to find you but don’t know where to look.”
Now I do.
How can we find the gifts in things we give up? Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes it takes a change in perspective. Sometimes it happens in a flash of self-awareness.
Whichever way it is, these gifts are the most precious of all because they are created by pain, wrapped with hope, and tied with love. But it’s up to us to find them in what’s left behind.
My mom’s silent legacy lives on in me, and every time I find a gift left behind it’s because of her – and every day I write it’s because of her.
“There’s something waiting out there
That says I’ve got to try,
I’ve been talking to my angel
And she said that it’s alright.”
– Talking to my Angel, Melissa Etheridge
I found the thing that was waiting out there for me. So thanks, Mom, because you’re still here with me, every day, in the gifts you give.
Have you found the gifts in what you left behind?