I held my Mom’s face in my hands the moment she took her last breath. It was 10:25 on 10/25. My Mom always had a way of having the last word, leaving her mark. She was stubborn like that. I’m nothing like her. Oh, wait. 😜
I’ll never forget that cool October morning. I can recount everything about it. The memory is so powerful it is like I can literally relive it. The sound of soft worship music playing, the smells of autumn, the people in the room and the exact place and position they were each in. Time stood still. I was a 24-year old-young lady with the world at my fingertips and I had just lost my Mom. My everything. The woman who raised me to be confident, independent, competitive, compassionate, determined, loyal, and fierce. She shaped me. Cared for me. Nurtured me. Loved me. Fought for me, and with me.
My Mom and I were one of those best friends-worst enemies kind of mother-daughter duos. Probably because she was mostly raising herself in me! We laughed, loved, cried and screamed with great intensity. She never missed even one game I played, play I performed, song I sang or article I wrote. But at the tender age of thirteen my life was spun into the awful trap of cancer. It would steal from her, and me. It took her personality, her work ethic, her grace for others, her joy for life, and eventually it took her breath away. I had the privilege of witnessing that last breath. She opened her eyes from a comatose state, looked straight up at me and one single tear crossed over her cheek. I spoke, “Mom, it’s okay, you can let go. We’re all gonna be okay. We love you.” And with that, a wave of peace rushed over her face. She was gone. Her body lay in my arms, my two brothers and I burrowed ourself into her and each other and wept. But she was gone.
This month marks the 15th year anniversary of her death. It’s funny how a date in time can either bring great joy or heartache for the rest of your life. We use dates often to help us remember, celebrate, grieve. October 25th for me is no exception. Except this year will be different. It has been different the last several years actually. I used to hate, and I mean hate, the month of October. I would anticipate it with dread and wish I could fall asleep on September 30th and wake up to November 1st. I would even be willing to miss Halloween parties and free candy. It would be easier to just “get past”, “move on”, “let go”.
Remembering, sitting in grief, choosing to celebrate and honor, it’s all just so hard. I want my Mommy back. I want her to meet my children. I would give anything to see her ornery face. To sit with her on the back porch even with the billow of cigarette smoke annoyingly swirling around my head. Her ranting or complaining about something or someone that just makes her so mad. To watch a football game. Play jeopardy with her. Even taking a chance at her flipping the monopoly game over out of anger and pride. I would go back to any one of those single moments and countless others. If I could. But I can’t.
Instead, I will be a better mother. A kinder wife. A faithful friend. A loyal employee. A compassionate minister. A strong leader. I will do all of these things and more this October in honor of her! I will live my best life as my best me! I will face the month with grace, compassion, love and goodness – because it’s the only October I get this year! I will make the best of my moments with whomever God puts in front of me. I will create memories and cherish them. This 15th anniversary will not be marked by uncontrollable doubt, regret, bargaining and anguish. It will be filled with the truth, which is that I am aloud to miss my mother every single day, but don’t have to abide in debilitating sadness, or depression, or avoidance. The truth is, her death and life has certainly shaped me, but it doesn’t define me.
Maybe you also have an “anniversary” coming up. Whether it is one connected to joy and goodness or disappointment and pain, my prayer for you today is that you would embrace life to the full on and around that date. Allow yourself the freedom to process in whatever way you need. But then, choose. Choose to be influenced by the significant thing or person connected to that anniversary, but not to let the rest of your life be defined by it. You are not your past. You are not what happened to you. My Grams (Mom’s Mom) always says, “You can’t always change your circumstances, but you can certainly change your attitude!!” So this October I choose joy! I choose gratitude! I choose laughter and hope! I choose love! I choose to reflect on and remember the beautiful, courageous woman my Mother was, and her legacy that lives on in and through me! What will you choose?
Bring it on October- I got some life to live!!