Death can make many levels of acquaintance with us. There is some death that is remotely connected to you and gives your heart pause, like distant relatives you never met or celebrities. There is death that hits you full force in the heart. And there is the impact death can make in your life that is everywhere in between.
I remember the time my mom snuck me into a classroom at the University of Texas, Health Science Center in San Antonio. It was a large room with florescent lights. The room was cool, almost cold. The air was filled with a queer aroma that I was unfamiliar with. It contained tens of evenly spaced tables each topped with a cadaver.
My mom had brought me in to see the cadavers because I was a science geek. I spent many hours in the Health Science Center Library where my mom worked flipping through medical journals out of fascination, while waiting for my mom. We took a solemn walk through the classroom, but I was only remotely acquainted with death then. I had lost friends, but I hadn’t lost family yet.
There was nothing quite like walking through the classroom filled with cadaver’s waiting to be dissected by students. The room had such a clinical, almost sterile feeling to it. Not like the up close and personal side of grief, but the clinical detached medical side of death.
I often think of the doctor who was the one to tell us that my mother’s condition was terminal. I don’t think we were surprised by that news, but the next part hit is broadside like a sucker punch — she had 7 to 10 days left to live. We sucked in air as a sob escaped us. I remember that we staggered back away from her as if distance would remove her words. She stood, calm and collected, and watched quietly as we regained our equilibrium just enough to stand on our feet again.
Sure enough within the time the doctor predicted my mom passed away in her home with us holding her hands. And it was nothing, nothing at all, like the seeing the cadavers in the classroom. It wasn’t clinical and cold, but personal and piercing. Her life contained ours. Her loss made us spill out into the world for a moment of uncertainty, no longer contained by her life.
We have shored up our lives up a bit now, but there are still leaks, places that can never be filled by anyone else. Like those moments when I’d give anything just to call my mom and hear her say, ““Well, hello Kayla” with a singsong joy that fills her at the sound of my voice. Like today, when I wish I could call her to say, “Happy birthday Mom!”
On her deathbed my mother told me that you never stop missing your mom. She was right, of course she knew, because she never stopped missing hers even up to her last day on earth.