As I began to clean the house, prepare for Thanksgiving dinner and dig out Christmas decorations a few days ago, it occurred to me that this will be my first holiday season without my mother. Since her death earlier this summer, I have often found myself wishing that I could have one more conversation, one more moment of laughter, one more chance, as Luther Vandross said, to “dance with my [mother] again.”
But then I realized I was being selfish. After all, my Mom had enjoyed a fruitful, satisfying 91 years of life. She had relished life with exuberance and joy while obediently following God’s directive to let her “light” shine no matter what storms may have come her way.
For as long as I can remember, in all of our letters and cards that we exchanged, we would end them by signing our names and then including four letters: OAOM or OAOS — abbreviations for how we felt about each other which translated to “One And Only Mom” or “One And Only Son.” It was our special way of indicating how much we loved one another and how we voiced that unique bond we shared.
As her only surviving child after she’d lost both a boy before me and a girl afterward, both born prematurely and who had died, I have always wondered why I’d been allowed to live, to grow, to mature and get to know this very special woman. In her final years, rather than my seeing the road as one of tragedy and turmoil, I counted it all joy. After all, I had been allowed the special and unique opportunity to care for someone who had sacrificed everything for my good and had cared for me for my entire life.
During her final four years of life, she had been overwhelmed with declining physical, emotional and mental abilities caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other life-altering challenges. And while it often seemed like it was more than I could handle, I found a way, somehow, just as she had done over, and over again since the day I had drawn my very first breath, to make a way out of no way.
For a few months after her death on July 4, I fought against the impulse to retreat within and languish in sorrow, loss, absence and pain. That, however, would have been the easy way out — the coward’s answer to the amazing transition that comes when we become “absent from the body” so that we can be “present with the Spirit.”
With that in mind, I eventually found myself reflecting on and celebrating the hundreds of “precious memories” that we collectively shared — moments and experiences that no one on this Earth can ever claim to have relished but me.
As I think back and see with vivid clarity, the times she made me laugh, the moments she held me in her arms when I felt like all hope had gone, the way she showed me that even when I had fallen, she was there to help me get back on my feet, I understand both how and why parents love their children unconditionally.
Momma may not be here physically but she’s certainly present in my mind, my heart and my soul. So, while I put up the Christmas tree, address greetings cards to those who owe their lives and ancestry to her, sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and pound out familiar “Carols of the Drum” on my piano, I cannot act as if I am all alone.
In fact, whether others believe it or not, I am even more convinced that she’s right here with me now — with her grandchildren, her adopted daughter, her two great-grandsons and others who are still alive and who, like me, cannot forget the difference she made in our lives — in my life.
I can’t explain why I was given such an incredible “angel” to guide and love me. I can only hope that I will be able to follow her example.
Happy Thanksgiving to all and to all … “a good night.” And thanks, Momma.