Two years ago today I held my mother’s hand as she took her last breathe.
Death leaves a vacancy in your life that no one can take up residence in. The loss of my mother did not leave a faint impression like a foot print in the sand that can easily washed away. Her absence has instead felt more like the loss of a limb for a tree.
“The larger a broken limb is, the harder it will be for the tree to recover from the damage.” Arbor Day Foundation
My mother was a major limb in my life and my heart still has aches and pains that it never had before. While I have continued growing there is now a large scar where she once was in my life. New life does not sprout out of the scar; instead the tree is forced to grow in other areas.
“In species where a leader (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) is important to upward growth or desirable appearance, it may have to be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader, but at best would be a stunted or deformed version of the original.” Arbor Day Foundation
I am thankful everyday that I can rest in the arms of Jesus. Death and loss in this life is constant, but my faith is a consistent “leader” branch that continues to keep my eyes “upward-trending” rather than into the depths of sorrow and loss. No matter how difficult the storms of my life are I can always count on my leader branch standing firm.
Two years ago we said goodbye and yet everyday memories of my mother race through my mind, kiss my heart and whisper “I love you.”
My brother and I both gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral. I wanted to share the messages today in her memory and because I know so many people with recent losses.
My Eulogy using my Journal Entry February 9, 2011
I’ve been here three weeks now caring for my mother. Right now is the first time I’ve made it to the beach.
There is hoarfrost covering the grass and rocks, even on the log where I sit. My mom spoke of the hoarfrost that coated North Dakota the winter her mother died.
Mom has been unconscious since Saturday – today is Wednesday. I decided today would be a good day to come to the beach as a signal to her that I will be okay. I am giving her the space to go. She would want to be free and not trapped in her stagnant body with her eyes closed.
She gave me a thousand memories in the past three weeks alone to hang onto. I’ve seen her laugh and cry – say goodbye – love and give – mourn and worry.
My mom is most alive in her smiles and those have been gone now for many days. The mourning has begun. The biggest part of her is already gone.
Sitting on this beach my mind is filled with memories of her here with her grandchildren. She spent endless hours throwing rocks in the ocean and hunting for tiny crabs.
Today is a perfectly clear crisp cool day – a perfect day to say goodbye. Her body is already so weak and yet she continues to live. Maybe she is waiting for this perfect clear Whidbey Island day.
At first goodbye seemed like it was coming at us so fast and now it feels like a long goodbye. With her conversation gone, now the days are long and painful watching her body suffering.
When I got here three weeks ago I realized that if this wasn’t the end I certainly could see if from here. Her body was giving out around her.
My mom was expected to live 3-10 years when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease 44 years ago. She raised us with the intention of being strong and independent enough to live without her. She always knew her time was limited. Her goal was to raise us and she did. Then her goal was to know her grandchildren and she did that, too. Her final goal was to die at home with her family where she is now.
My mother reminded me this week of how important it was to know people – even if it was for only a short period. She wanted to know everyone’s name and to learn a piece of their story when she was with them.
Growing up in my mother’s shadow I learned to be creative, express myself and try new things. She taught me to dance through life with love and laughter pouring out freely. I learned to be strong and brave and to accept that sometimes there is nothing left to do but to die at your appointed time.
I wish I could bring this peaceful scene with the ocean perfectly reflecting the bright blue sky with the mountains clear and so close it feels like you could reach out and touch them to my mother’s bedside right now. She would enjoy this cool gentle breeze and the hypnotic sound of the ocean caressing the beach. I wish she could breathe in the scent of the ocean so that she would know that it is an ideal day to die – and let go.
My mom saw the beauty in everything and in people. She could translate the beauty onto canvas. For me it is pen and paper that I express myself. These are the first words I’ve allowed to pour out onto paper because I’ve needed to be brave these past few weeks. My mom never liked to console people in her time of crisis – so I was brave. But now I’ve walked down to the safety of the ocean and let down my brave face as I write through tears.
(At 10:00 a.m. I finished writing those words. I had nothing left to write. I sat staring at the ocean for a few moments but the contentment I felt sitting there had left me and I felt compelled to return to the house. I took a moment to throw a rock into the ocean for each member of our family to symbolize us letting her go.
I came to her bedside and told her about the hoarfrost that had settled over Whidbey Island and even onto the beach – like the hoarfrost that was present when her mother died. I told her that the sky was blue and that it was a perfect day to say goodbye.
Her breathing was the same – I walked away from her bedside and moments later returned to find her breathing had changed. We gathered around her and within moments she released her last breath and with that, at 10:25 a.m, she said her final goodbye.)
It is nearly impossible
to think of you in the past tense.
Your life is colorfully woven into the fabric of ours.
I know you are gone.
I saw you leave,
but in my memory you are vividly alive
with your mischievous smile
teasing the corners of your mouth.
Saying, “She was…”
doesn’t fit comfortably on my tongue yet,
because you left bold strokes upon my life.
I see you alive all around me.
You live in the impression
you left upon your grandchildren.
Your life is etched in the laugh lines
worn deeply into my father from a lifetime
of joy shared with “the love of his life.”
I see you in the bold brush strokes you left on canvas
and the lives you touched.
I can hear you in the language of my motherhood
and the dialect of my life.
I feel your strength that you wove deep
into the hearts of my brother and I,
because you always knew
that you would leave us too soon.
Death may have taken you,
but what you left behind
will echo in our lives
for generations to come.
© Kayla Fioravanti 2/10/11 (Published in When I was Young I Flew the Sun Like a Kite)
What My Mom Taught Me, eulogy given by my brother Kevin Mohs
When I was alone with my mother in her hospital room before she came home to spend her final days surrounded by friends and family she told me that she wanted to apologize for not giving me the attention she felt I needed as a young child. When I was young, she was very weak from battling cancer and she didn’t have the energy to wrestle or play games with me. I told her that I never felt deprived of her love or attention while growing up. I let her know that she and my father gave me the tools, experiences and guidance necessary to live a happy and successful life.
My mother survived that bout with cancer and continued to give me more than enough lessons to last a lifetime. I want to share just a few of things my mother taught me. I think we can all learn from her.
Laughter is strong medicine, especially when it’s shared with a good friend. She told me that laughing with her friends helped her to bare the pain during the dark days of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Marriage is something you work at and, when you’re with the right person, it’s something you should not run away from when times get difficult. You must rediscover the love that brought you together and build upon that common ground. Seeing how my parent’s marriage evolved and grew stronger with every passing year gave me an example to live up to.
While traveling long distances in a cramped car or camper, never wait until the end of the day when you’re tired and hungry to try to find a place to stay the night. I can tell you from experience that the conversations weren’t always pretty. Sometimes we ended up spending the night in surprising places like a rest stop on the side of a highway in France or a farmer’s backyard in Ireland.
A good prank can turn into a fond memory if pulled with love and not malice. It was great to see my mom initiate some pranks with the grandkids during our recent trip together in Hawaii.
Beauty can be found in the people and things that surround you and it can be shared with others through artistic expression. You can see for yourself the beauty shining through in her paintings.
Sometimes mothers are pretty good at telling their sons when they’ve discovered true love. That happened to me twenty years ago when I was dating the woman who would become my wife.
You should not fear death. Go to it with dignity while mending fences, saying good-byes, and letting friends and family know how special they are to you. I was truly moved by how my mom interacted with visitors those last weeks. She took great joy in those visits and she never lost her sense of humor.
When everything else around you changes, the love of your family stays constant. With all of our moves, this bond was really tested, but never broken.
And, finally, both my mother and father demonstrated how a couple should say farewell with tenderness, dedication and love. My dad leaning over the hospice bed in their living room and tenderly kissing my mother while she raises her arms to hug him in a final embrace is an image forever burned into my memory. They shared a gift with me by being so open with their affection for each other until the very end.
My mother worried that she would die young, so as I grew up, she prepared me for a life without her by teaching me how to cook, how to clean the house and how to wash clothes. But, as you can see, she taught me so much more than that. These life lessons were rooted in her strong Christian faith and they will continue to guide me now that she’s gone, so that I can become a better son, husband, father, brother and human.
I’m glad I got the chance to tell my mom that she had nothing to apologize for and that she gave me exactly what I needed. I told her that I loved her. I wish I said those things more often to her in life. But I guess that’s the biggest lesson I learned from her… the importance of expressing your feelings often with those you love. You never know when it will be the last time you will have the opportunity.
Elin Borg Criswell says
Kayla… thanks so much for sharing your intimate family moments. As the old saying goes, ‘death is a part of life.’ But of course it’s certainly not easy. I think that writing such as yours here, could indeed be beneficial to those going through loss. Maybe sometimes we can encourage others just by letting them know… it’s O.K. to hurt… it’s O.K. to mourn. Grief is a very difficult journey that we must individually travel. But it’s so encouraging when someone comes along side and simply says through words or actions… I understand … it’s O.K. to hurt …. you will get through this.
So true Elin — we often need to be reminded of just that – it’s O.K. to hurt… it’s O.K. to mourn.
Alex Mutagubya says
This is courage. This is Faith. May the lord of all comfort continue guide and guard you through this time of great loss this side of heaven. May He keep your heart strong and courageous. I am praying for you and your family.
Thank you Alex and Faith — your mission is often in my prayers.
Dayna Whitehead says
I lost my MIL just 9 days ago with her funeral only 6 days ago. I find it to be providence that I found your blog today. Thank you for a poignant reminder of how such a loss can affect us. My MIL was far better, kinder, smarter, and so on than my mother ever was. I know I will miss her for the rest of my life (I turned 48 on Sunday), and now I know I will most likely feel that loss for a long time to come, but not necessary with tears. Thank you.
I’m so sorry for the recent loss of your mother-in-law. What a blessing to get an amazing MIL when you got married. I am sure that you will miss her some days with tears and some days with strength — but always you will miss her. Bless you!