In the four years leading up to our last goodbye, my mother was given a medley of gifts by the medical profession. The first gift was just the beginning. With a big tag labeled breast cancer, it showed up in the middle of our lives wrapped in a big pink ribbon, no card or instructions, and alas no gift receipt. Its arrival was marked with tears and puffy eyes. I used to hate the idea that there would ever be a reason that this disease was addressed to my mom, but it was she, that showed me how to take each gift with grace. Even the ones that make you cry. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year, when final gift arrived at our doorstep. Like before there was no card or instructions, and no gift receipt, except this time the once ambitious pink ribbon had faded, and the tag was not labeled with a diagnosis to start a fight, just a time: three to six months.
|Shown (l to r): Mattie, Ronnie, Allie, Erin|
Behind the camera: Doug
As my mother described, they were the days we had together and the days we did not. And it scared me so much. I had been given a time limit with the person I loved and through everything loved me. To think that three to six months would hold the last memories with my mom was not at first an idea I wanted to accept. Up until then, we had all taken on breast cancer as a fight. We wanted to win; however, it was my mom that showed us the beauty in accepting this time as a gift. And through her strength, I understood that acceptence did not mean surrendering. Accepting this gift of time was allowing myself to have a beautiful, long goodbye with my mom. I knew that she might not be there as I graduate high school, or walk down the aisle, but I would go through my life knowing that I was given the time that so many people never even get the chance to have. A gift of goodbye.
As one would presume, our goodbye brought along many tears, but it also brought memories, and joy, and most importanly, grace. I had listened to so many people tell me how strong my mom and my family was, and yet I don’t think it was strength that was holding us together. I believe that through the gift we had been given, we had all gained a feeling of grace. A grace that would accept even the heartaches as memory of a beautiful goodbye.
The first morning I went back to school after my mother’s death the air was still. As I stood in the grey light that hinted through the French doors on the back of our house, I could feel it aching to be revived by the sunlight. I was ready to go back to school, but I couldn’t help but linger for a few more minutes. My feet paced against the hardwood floor like ships waiting for their anchor to snag the bottom. Usually I raced out of the house in the morning, but that morning I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something. By then the clock was pushing me along, so I went to tell my dad I was leaving. He stood in the kitchen, trimming another set of sunflowers from the pervious days’ services to put in a vase. As I saw the flowers lining the counter, I felt that knot tighten in my throat. This morning goodbye would have to take the place of two.
“Goodbye. I love you.” He said as he kissed my forehead and held me, backpack and all, a little tighter than most mornings.
Walking through the halls to my first class, I couldn’t help but wonder if the people I passed had said goodbye to their mothers that morning or if they hugged their fathers before walking out the door. I hope they did; even the smallest goodbyes are gifts.