Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of things that happen in our lives, and the unexpected passing of my Mom in early October really shook me to my core. Given my Dad’s dementia and other age-related challenges, my four siblings and I all thought he might have gone first, as my Mom had been spry and sharp and in seemingly better shape until the week before she passed.
My Mom, Angela, had been progressing well after a seemingly successful surgery in late August, but about five weeks later, she experienced a significant downturn once more. A second surgery left her with weakened vital signs and she passed away two mornings later, another star and ray of light returning to the great unknown. Her closest friends had always called her Angel.
One thing I do know is that my mom’s spirit and love live on in all the life and lives that I am a part of. It’s hard not to think about her during one of her favorite seasons (spring is #1, fall is #2), when walking and kicking through piles of colorful leaves swirling around on sidewalks, when glancing up at brilliant blue skies decorated with white puffy cumulus clouds, when witnessing squirrels and birds zoom around the backyard preparing for winter .Or when getting ready for Halloween, as she got such a kick out of helping my brother Bill and I with costumes when we were very young, and still enjoyed seeing photos of grandchildren and her own grown children dressing up in the spirit of the season..
My mom lived her last 20-plus years in an apartment complex west of Richmond, Virginia, where my oldest sister continues to live just a few doors down from where she called home. I was always astonished by how much my mom had turned her little corner of the earth outside her place into something so personal, so beautiful, and so magical. She planted, usually with the landlords’ permission, small bushes, trees and plants to brighten up her home outside her home. She nurtured hens and chickens, forget-me-nots and other flowers in small beds outside, and had turned an old wooden barrel into a planter, leaving a hole at the bottom of the barrel intact so chipmunks had a place to hide. I wouldn’t say she was one and at peace with the squirrels, though, as she alternated between leaving crumbs out for them to eat, and then shooing at them with a broom, followed by the occasional expletive, too! She had deep roots and a strong connection to where she lived, yet she also encouraged her five children to find their own places to grow, to become rooted and call home.
As an adult, it took time, effort and lots of soul-searching before I finally found my own place to call home and put down roots here in Montana, which is where I was when my sister called about my mom’s condition following her second surgery, and where I was fitfully sleeping the morning that she died. We are honoring her request to have her ashes scattered next summer, and to have a celebration of life gathering for her instead of a funeral service.
A state of grace and calm prevail in most moments now, alongside occasional rip-currents and waves of grief and sadness. I think about my mom and how much she loved the seashore, especially Cape Hatteras and other places on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,
Imagining and envisioning being there reminds me that we are all a part of this huge ocean of love, family, community and possibility. Storms are inevitable, even hurricanes from time to time. We are all part of this tug and pull, these vast and often unknowable rhythms and cycles of life
Even after the craziest, shittiest and darkest of storms, light returns, love remains. And if we keep nurturing that, remembering those who gave their love while they were here, encouraging us to be grateful for what we have and to do what we can to serve others and something bigger than ourselves, we are unstoppable.
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” said Ferdinand Foch. My mom’s soul and spirit burned brightly her entire life. It feels fitting that she passed at this time of year, when the maples, sumacs, oaks and other trees she loved also are aflame, before their leaves too return to where they once came from.
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