There is a Soul

The first Christmas without my mom came and went.

There was very little talk about her.

Mostly glances.

As if the leaking floodgates would swing wide open if we spoke of her.

For my mom, Christmas was a time for celebrating family and God.

I grew up in a religious family. My grandfather was a minister, my dad became a minister, and my mom was a devout Christian. We went to church on Sundays – sometimes twice – and Wednesday evenings too. I was in the youth group, bell choir, and I got baptized twice. Yes. Twice. I didn’t remember my first one and I asked to do it again a few years later so I could remember it. I think I wrote a big sappy speech and everything.

As I entered my teenage years, my parents attended different churches with different fundamental beliefs; my church divided due to my pastor’s affair; and one of my best friends committed suicide. This was my breaking point for organized religion. I simply couldn’t come to terms with the things happening around me.

Today, if someone asked me if I was a Christian, the answer would be no.

But I do believe there is a soul.

What it is, what it means, and what happens to it, I cannot even begin to speculate. I do not believe we were created at once by an all powerful being. But I do believe in energy and connection – a spiritual connection of all things living and non living. Perhaps this spiritual energy is simply atoms and waves connecting everything that was once stardust.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan

My sense of spirituality is strong, yet my beliefs are raw and undefined. My mom, however, had an unwavering belief in God. She went to multiple bible studies and yearned to learn all she could about being a Christian. She lived every day according to the Bible to the best of her ability.


On July 14th, 2017, my mom had been in the hospital for 7 days. She had continued to show no signs of recovery and we were beginning to make very difficult decisions… It was time for my uncle, brother, sister, and I to meet with the palliative care nurse.

Through gasping sobs, I shared that I had been thinking about this looming conversation we were about to have and there were three things I knew about my mom that would help us make decisions:

  1. She hated people doing things for her and she would not want machines to live for her.
  2. She was afraid of dying alone at home and perhaps we have an opportunity here to surround her with all the people that love her.
  3. She has spent her whole life preparing for and looking forward to meeting God.

Our decisions were just that:

  1. Do not resuscitate.
  2. Invite everyone that was a part of her life to come spend time with her.
  3. Welcome her faith and religion into her room as she prepared to meet her God.

The upcoming days unfolded just as my mom would have liked – with an outpouring of love and prayer. There was rarely a time when there was NOT a visitor in her room. Many friends prayed for her, grasping her hand. Some spoke in tongues. Some sang. Many read bible verses. Some sat in silence.

Her friends told her to stay – this was not her time and not God’s plan.

Others told her that they are praying for her and they trust God to help her decide whether to stay or go.

And some would ask to pray with my siblings and I. Although this made us uncomfortable, this was not for us. This was for my mom.

We made these last days full of God’s love – just as she would have wanted it.

It was not my belief. But maybe it is just a different version of my stardust and energy. Just different perspectives for the same phenomenon that we struggle to understand – the soul.


Minutes after my mom passed, I looked at her and did not recognize her pale skin and sullen face. “That’s not her,” I said.

Perhaps that is proof there is a soul.


I visit my mom often at Oak Hill Cemetery. It is a nice release of my leaky floodgates. I talk to her as though she is there. But I know she is everywhere now. I feel her soul. She is waves of energy. She is here. There. Always.

She is stardust.

Miles

I remember telling my parents I was 18 and pregnant. My dad was making pizza and covered in flour and simply replied, “It’s not the end of the world.”

My mom had been sitting with me for a long time as I cried and made life altering decisions.

She was good at sitting with people.

Considering all the reactions they could have had when their teenager tells them she is pregnant – I was pretty damn lucky to have such caring parents.

On Christmas Eve 2001, I brought Miles home to my parents’ house full of cats and love.

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My mom was always very cautious to not overstep her boundaries as a grandmother. She often asked me if she was being too mom and if she needed to be more grandma.

So thoughtful.

She deeply loved Miles from the beginning. He was not the easiest baby. I was also young and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. She did.

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Miles had two houses, three parents, six grandparents, 4 great-grandparents, and many aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This was both a blessing and a struggle – especially in December when we had to juggle his birthday and multiple holiday gatherings.

My mom was always sensitive about this time of year. She wanted to make sure that we weren’t spread too thin; that Miles got to celebrate his birthday with the most family there; and that we got to enjoy some time as our little family.

This year will be different without her.

On July 16, 2017, Casey brought Miles to the hospital to see grandma as she lay in a coma-like state, her soul trying to decide which way to go. Miles was there when my mom passed. Her heart rate and oxygen dropped in about 30 seconds. And there was nothing. The nurse listened to her heart and checked her pulse.

“Is she gone?” I asked.

She nodded.

We all cried and embraced one another. Miles, too. I never got tighter hugs from that dude than I did that day and the following weeks. He can tell when I am sad and I still get the occasional extra-tight hug.

I remember hugging Miles and saying, “She loved you so very much.”

She did. So damn much. She always wanted to be as involved in his life as possible. And questions… So many questions about how school is going for him, how his dad and other grandma are doing, about his friends… She was good at investing in relationships, especially with Miles.

He knows she loves him and she always will.

He will be 16-years-old on December 23rd.

I know, right?

And I’m sure this summer was a formative experience for him. A kid who is incredibly sarcastic and smart, forging his own path as a young man, and working to make sense of the world around him. He’s pretty wonderful.

Thanks mom, for being my mom and instilling the values that I now pass down to Miles. Thanks for housing us when he was first born. Thanks for being my sounding board when I don’t know what to do as a parent. Thanks for being there for Miles.

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And thanks for being a really fun grandma. I know this is what he will remember.

Communication

The biggest thing I have had to learn as an adult is communication. As wonderful as my family is, we were never good at genuine, honest communication. I remember family meetings as an attempt to practice sharing and hearing one another. I remember conversations that skirted the surface of issues. I remember laughter and family game nights. I also remember silence and closed doors.

Communication is something my mom has spent a lot of time on – how to communicate genuinely to us, to her friends, to her God, and to herself.

It was not uncommon to start a conversation with my mom and her admitting that she has been perseverating on something that happened two months ago and she’d like to talk about it.

It was not uncommon for my mom to come in the door, sit down in the kitchen and ask how we were – not how the surface appeared, but how we were.

It was not uncommon for my mom to revisit a topic that I had brought up in the past, and want to know the progress and next steps – and perhaps more importantly, how I was feeling about it all.

It was not uncommon for my mom to want to hear everything in every conversation happening in the room – and to interrupt to find out what was happening in a story that she only heard the end of.

It was not uncommon for my mom to share how she felt.

It was not uncommon for my mom to share how much we meant to her.

It was not uncommon for my mom to cry, to get anxious, to get excited, and to openly share that with whomever she was with.

It was not uncommon for my mom to love and to share her love.

In the end, I’d say she did a pretty darn good job working on her communication skills. It doesn’t mean she was great at it. She still butted in conversations, she still took things too personally, and she still invited herself to things she wasn’t invited to. But she was ever-evolving and always open to hearing how she could do things differently.

What if we all lived life with genuine honesty?

What if we all communicated with the purpose to give and receive love?

A living obituary.

An obituary that happens while we’re alive. While we’re here to hear it from those that love us the most.

My husband said it best:

Your mom was the person she always hoped she would be.

Tell those in your life that you love them. Tell them how they have made a difference in your life. Tell them that they are enough.

While they’re still here.

Communicate. Not just words. Genuine. Honest. Love.