Mom with her first granddaughter

One year ago today, Mom crossed over. I don’t know how I’ve lived for 365 days without her. One year without hearing her voice, saying “I love you, baby” or ending our conversation with “You’re a great daughter and a wonderful mother and good wife and I love you so much.” It breaks my damn heart.

As a child, we lived with my Nanny and when I was 7, she had a stroke in the bathroom doorway one night. I woke up to a blaring ambulance and my mom collapsing into sobs as she frantically performed CPR on her mother. Mom’s medical knowledge was on par with any doctor, exceeded many doctors, actually. She knew what was happening to my Nanny. I trailed behind in a police car along with my sister and followed the ambulance that my mom was in with my Nanny as it rushed to the hospital ER entrance. The flashing lights all abuzz reinforced my idea that was just a dream. If only.

After that night, Mom visited Nanny every night after work, while my sister and I stayed in the hospital lobby. On one long night, Mom told Nanny, who had been lying unconscious for several days, that she had to get us to bed and she told us that Nanny somehow signaled for her to go home. My Nanny died just hours later and Mom remained guilty for leaving her side.

But I knew my Nanny and she would never, ever want Mom to see her leave the earth. Mom was such a tender soul and she loved her mother beyond words.

Last summer, Mom was in the hospital for most of July and August. In August, she was unconscious. My Dad, sister, and I, along with her doctors, tried to move heaven and earth to get her better. We had a crew of specialists on her case, had new questions daily for each doctor and nurse we saw, and consistently and almost constantly researched blood levels and scans and similar cases, always trying to find an answer that would lead us to a way out of this nightmare, almost 40 summers since losing Nanny.

My Dad, my sister, and I played music, everything she loved, and watched TV together each day, all the while holding her hands and telling stories and telling her how much we loved her. A few hours before Mom left this earth, I hugged and kissed her. She had hung on much longer than doctors expected, defied many odds, and had fought with all the strength and fortitude she had, but every system in her body had been through so much and it was breaking down. I knew it was time for her to let go, and I also knew leaving us was the hardest thing she ever would do. Before I left her late one Friday night, just as I had done so many times during that week, I whispered the words that she so freely graced me with countless times before: “You’re a great daughter and a wonderful mother and great wife and I love you so much.” Six hours after I left, Mom transcended to go be with her own Mom.

And I felt like I should have stayed. I should have done more. I should have not left her side. I should have not let her be taken out of ICU. I should have demanded every doctor in that place to get in a group and figure out how to make her better.

I should have…

A year later, I honestly don’t know what I should have done because I did everything I could. We all did … the whole summer.  My dad, sister, and I went over every single test, chart, procedure, and grilled every specialist consistently. But in the end, nothing worked and our beautiful, loving, sweet, wonderful Mom was taken from us and there was nothing any of us could do.

I think of all the people who’ve been snatched away due to COVID this year and I’m so grateful that I was able to have so many last days with her, so many days spent playing her favorite music, holding her hand, telling her how much I love her, and hearing her tell me how much she loved me before she slipped deeper into unconsciousness. I think of how Mom lost her mom when she was ten years younger than I was when I lost her, and I feel so thankful for those ten years. And I remember Mom’s cancer battle 16 years ago and how I could have lost her then, too.

The truth is, I am the luckiest person to have had her at all.

I think of how many times Mom would burst into tears thinking of my Nanny. Even as an adult I didn’t understand how you could still 10 or 20 years later feel so sad, but of course, now I understand on a guttural level. Yet Mom tried to have fun and enjoy her life anyway, knowing that she wanted to give my sister and me the very best lives she could. If you met my mother, you always felt better after leaving her company. That was a fact. She kept her deep heartache inside while she tried to brighten everyone else’s life.

I’ve been looking through hundreds of photos of Mom the past year and her beauty and strength are apparent throughout her entire life. It’s also evident that Mom lived life to the fullest, taking flying lessons, vacationing with my Dad, attending every single event her grandkids had, adopting dogs, making new friends literally everywhere, lending an ear and shedding tears for whatever struggle any of our family was going through, celebrating occasions big and small, making us each feel special, and praying for all of us when we needed it the most.

When I’m having a bad day, I remind myself that Mom was so strong that she managed to fight for her best life here on earth as best she could, and that may be the very hardest thing to do, to keep going when you just want to shrivel up into a ball and forget about the world. After her mom died, Mom went on to have decades of new experiences, so many memorable moments and sheer fun with my sister and me, and then each of her grandchildren, as well as countless beautiful, exciting, and tender days with my Dad, her Dan, the love of her life.

A year later, I still have my intense and weepy days but they are becoming more intermingled with times when I know she is at peace and finally with her mom and her brother after all these years. When I think of her seeing my Nanny again, I feel so thoroughly happy for her.

Even through the pain, I know she is still with me and each of us, maybe not in the way that we can see her or hug her, but one day we will. Love may transcend but it’s always there … when the song that Mom loved suddenly comes on the radio when I’m feeling down, or when I’m looking at one of my kids and hear her say what I know full and well she would have said if she was here, or when my Dad does too much physically and I hear her reprimand him to get down from the ladder or sit down and rest, or even when I simply feel her console me when the tears can’t stop falling.

Grief is the price you pay for loving so deeply. Few people love as fiercely as my Mom. So lucky for me, she taught me all I know. And here’s what I know: We will all be together again one day and love never, ever dies.

Death Is Nothing At All
By Henry Scott-Holland

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!