365 days in Retrospect

Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s death. I want to write something and I want it to be personal yet applicable to you good people.

I guess I can start by saying that I am remarkably calm today. This day has not been the emotional wrecking ball that I had been anxious about it being. I started this day like every other day, by getting up and going to 6:45 Mass. I privately prayed the Office of the Dead from the Liturgy of the Hours for my mother while I waited for Mass to begin, praying for the completion of her perfection in Purgatory to be hastened (2 Maccabees 12:40-46 (canonicity of Maccabees), Matthew 12:31-32, Luke 12:59, 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, 1 Timothy 1:16-18; 4:19). Later after Mass I had a long conversation with a co-worker about my mother and it was very peaceful.

So when I look back over the past year, I realize that my perspective has changed, or grown, as the initial devastation has been made distant by time. Immediately after she died I experienced quite a bit of anger, which was quite a surprise to me. I was, even more surprisingly, angry at her. I was angry that she had left without saying good-bye. I felt abandoned. I felt, knowing that it was silly, that she had chosen to leave and deliberately chosen to do so without giving me a proper farewell. I was angry at God. I was angry that her death was so sudden, that there wasn’t any explicit warning that would allow all of us to come together around a “deathbed” and be with her when she left. That’s how it is in the movies. But in my life she was there when I went to bed, and gone the next day, no warning.

There was also a lot of denial, which I would have to guess is quite common when a loved one dies. Even now there are moments when I am still in denial. It was simply impossible to believe that someone I had known for the entirety of my existence was simply gone, that I could not call them, see them, spend time with them, talk to them, ask them questions about the history of our family. When moments of clarity did come and I understood that she is indeed gone, my mind often swung so far that I wondered if any of it had ever been real to begin with.

But above the anger and the denial, the thing that most affected me were the dreams. I dreamed about her almost every night for about 4 or 5 months. But they were never joyful dreams. They came in two recurring forms: one was the dream where she was dying, usually stuck or trapped somewhere, or she was in some sort of situation which was symbolic of dying, and I was unable to do anything to stop it from occurring. The other form was far more bitter in which everyone thought and remembered her dying only to discover that she hadn’t, and then immediately upon that joyous news, she died for real, and then I woke up. I didn’t sleep well for a long time. They finally stopped this summer, but have started up again intermittently for the last few weeks, mostly being in the first form.

So why am I writing this? I’ve realized over the last year that mourning becomes less about the person who has died and more about the person trying to move on. Other than praying for my mother, not one thought of sadness, regret, or despair can do anything to change anything for her. So mourning actually becomes about me, as selfish as that may sound. And here is what I’ve received out of mourning.

The first thing is the realization that death and pain are inevitable parts of life and the world does not stop for them. Just like the emotional teenager who wrongly thinks that they are the only one who has ever felt they way they do about anything…

…so the mourner eventually realizes that while their emotions are real and valid, that they are not unique. The mourner joins the rest of the human race by accepting the reality of death that touches all of us.

The second thing is a renewed hope. For awhile after she died, I stressed myself out over her salvation. There is a whole complicated back story to her faith that left me both hopeful and desperate. The issue has never been resolved, but that’s ok, because its not my issue to resolve. The issue has already been resolved with God, and all that I can do is pray that any purification that she is still undergoing (Revelation 21:27) will be completed quickly. My hope comes in that whatever her faith was or was not, that my faith will be as perfect as God wills it to be. My hope comes in that I still have time to carpe some diem and make the most of out utilizing God’s graces to me and not squandering any of it.

And this leads me to the third thing, and that is that in death I have actually known my mother more, for better and for worse. I’ve taken to heart her finest examples of virtue, and I’ve kept in mind some of her flaws, so that in my life I can exemplify and honor her best facets so that she might shine still in the world. And I’m learning from the mistakes that she made, because isn’t that what parents really desire, for their children to take their best without being tainted by their worst? I hope that in trying my hardest to do so, I will honor her life more than millions of tears shed in the vain desire of making Dec. 22, 2013 go away.

I hope that in eternity, this day will be celebrated as a great feast honoring the day a great saint beloved by God entered eternal glory, but until that day comes, this day should be celebrated in great joy to honor all that she was in this life.

Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.