First Easter without Mom.
I went to sleep early on Saturday night, and woke up early this morning, around 5:30AM, so as to go perform my own little sunrise ceremony. I was counting on Fort Hunt Park being open by 6:30 (sunrise was closer to 6:50), and as it turned out, the park was quite open. Not only that, but as I drove past the entrance, I saw that one parking lot was already full of worshippers who had taken over the park's main pavilion-- even lighting its large stone hearth-- for an Easter sunrise service.
I wasn't interested in that service, or even in that parking lot. Instead, I drove down to one of the parking lots at which we used to stop so that Mom could get out and have a walk. We took Mom walking as often as we could during her illness; she'd had good days and bad days, depending on the state of her brain: too much intracranial edema meant that she would stumble and fall, leaving it up to us, usually two of us, to catch her in time.
Today's dawn was quiet. I got out of the car, stared around at the slowly lightening park, and began to walk the route we normally took with Mom. My hand reached out to grasp her now-invisible hand, and for a moment I was able to conjure Mom up, and feel what it was like to walk slowly across the asphalt with her at my side. There were brief tears, but this morning wasn't as bad as several weeks ago, when I came back to this park for the first time since Mom's death. On that day, I started walking and suddenly stopped: Mom's absence was heartbreakingly palpable. Instead of walking, I found myself leaning against the pillar of one of the smaller pavilions, sobbing at the cruel pain of memory, and it wasn't until I'd finished crying that I was able to pull myself together and walk our familiar path.
This morning, as I noted, the tears were brief. I walked one path, drove the car around the perimeter road a bit, parked at our other traditional parking lot, and walked that second path as well. Together, the two paths were about three-quarters of a mile in length: the measure of a cancer-ridden life.
When I finished the second walk, I bypassed the car and sat myself on a picnic table sheltered by a pavilion, facing the rising sun. The pavilion's heavy wooden structure, and the way in which it framed the sun, evoked the ambience of a temple. I sat ch'am-seon (zazen) for a hundred slow breaths, and right as I expelled my hundredth breath, I suddenly heard the sound of singing from the Christian group across the way. I smiled; it was one of those happy coincidences that might lead the more superstitious among us to see the work of Providence.
I'm not a literal theist; haven't been for years. I don't believe in Providence, or a literal resurrection, or miracles, or the power of prayer. As far as I'm concerned, what happened to Mom was unfair, and made no ultimate sense. If there is a God, then Mom's brain cancer was evidence of God's cruelty, not his majesty or mercy. Her cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, has an unknown cause and no known cure: it arose through unfathomable but natural means, and Mom died a death that was the natural consequence of such a cancer's progression. No one recovers from GBM, and Mom's cancer was even more aggressive than most GBM cases are. We did what we could for nearly nine months, struggling to keep her as comfortable as possible, all the while knowing that she would eventually die. I spent some of that time hoping that she might be made well enough to live to 70; that was a vain hope. Some of Mom's friends and relatives persisted in denial, thinking that somehow she might benefit from a cure. I suppose it's only natural to cling to hope, but hope often clouds one's perception of reality.
We now begin the long trudge past a series of temporal milestones. Today marks our first Easter without Mom. Two days from now, Dad endures his first wedding anniversary without his wife; it would have been their 43rd. On May 4th, we face Mom's birthday; she would have been 67. By modern American standards, 67 is still young. My aunt in Texas, Mom's big sister and her senior by twelve years, has repeatedly lamented the injustice of Mom's passing away first. I'd rather that both Mom and my aunt lived forever, but I understand the spirit of my aunt's lament. Mom's death wasn't part of some ridiculous cosmic plan or "salvation history"; it simply happened, and it was senseless, tragic, and ignoble. And yes: it was unfair.
Combatting that senselessness, tragedy, and ignobility is our duty: the duty of those who remain. Mom would want to know that her three sons were living happy and fulfilling lives, that her husband was enjoying retirement and a measure of inner peace. It's up to us to be true to what Mom would have wanted, and her memory must now serve as our guide. I don't believe in souls or the afterlife, but I think there's a meaningful sense in which Mom continues to be with us. Her existence created ripples that affected everyone around her-- family, friends, coworkers, and relatives. Those ripples will continue outward, changing form, but always supplying a loving impetus to our nobler thoughts and actions.
In the meantime, though, Mom's loss is still fresh in our hearts. We miss her. Desperately.
A few minutes after Mom died on January 6, we each took a moment to say something to her before leaving the ICU. I don't know what Dad or my brothers said, but for my part, I told Mom that I loved her, and that she shouldn't worry: we'd be all right. It's up to us, now, not to let those words become a lie.
I love you, Mom. I love you.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
First Easter without Mom.