live each day

pedicures 3Her pedicure still looked pretty. Of all the details that are burned into my memory of this day five years ago, that image persists. By the time her body succumbed to the cancer, my mom did not look much like herself to me — she had fought a long, hard battle, and it showed. But even as she took her last shallow breath, her toes were exactly as I always remember them — pretty, painted, pink. Somehow that was comforting. I inherited her feet, among other features, and when I have a nice pedi I think of her every time I look down.

It seems impossible that she’s been gone five whole years, but also like an eternity since I’ve seen her. How’s that for typical? Who knew that this life-altering tragedy would be subject to the same paradox as every other memory that time pushes steadily into the past. So much has changed and there is so much joy in my life, but I still get as emotional about missing her as I did in year one. The gut-punch moments don’t come as often, but they sting just the same. And I still have nights like this one, in which I find myself awake at 3am beyond all reason. Everyone else in the house has been sleeping for hours and will not stir for many more, and I’m sitting in the dark going over all the details, trying to remember some, trying to forget others.

I’m happy that I had a more-than-amazing relationship with my mom in which we held nothing back. I have no regrets, no unspoken sentiments. Other than new experiences and thoughts and questions I want to share with her daily, I don’t worry that I should have said something important. But somehow, each year I go over all the things I would say and do differently if I were living this week in 2010 again. The ways I would shift my focus, choose a different response, or redirect my inner thoughts. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.

But I refuse to be sidetracked by my hangups. Today, I’m celebrating her life, honoring her legacy, and giving two of her grandchildren the extra hugs and kisses she would have showered on them. Which is not a bad way to spend the day.

lessons learned from surviving four mother’s days without my mom

mother's day 2014For those of us who find mother’s day a little tricky—there are plenty of circumstances that complicate this fête—it’s natural to prepare for the fuss and bustle with a few coping mechanisms at the ready. In the past four years, I’ve employed a few tactics, with limited success.

I’ve tried avoiding all social media and sappy commercials. Blocking out the parade of sentimental mom tributes helps, but sticking your head in the sand isn’t the healthiest strategy.

I’ve tried focusing on my own motherhood to a sweet little one. That brings me joy, but it doesn’t satisfy the longing to honor my mom with a heartfelt gesture.

I’ve tried celebrating all the mothers in my life that I admire and appreciate. While I’m honestly thrilled to salute them, and am truly grateful for their influence on my life, I still feel the unfinished itchiness of needing to include one more person.

What I’ve learned is that these methods will never entirely soothe the mother’s day blues for me, because my unease isn’t due to the emphasis on moms making me miss mine more. That is not possible. What I feel on this day is more of a fidgety restlessness that comes with unexpressed sentiments.

On the day when everyone is professing that no, MY mom is the best!—I have things I want to say, and I want to say it to her (lovely) face! 😉 Nothing was left unsaid before my mom died (our relationship was not reserved), but becoming a mother has heightened my awe of her and increased my gratitude for everything she did for me. I have a new-found respect and wonder, and I want to gush at her.

So I’ve decided I’ve been doing it wrong. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be an exercise in divert, distract, deflect. Yes, I will continue to direct my attention toward cherishing being a mommy and esteeming the wonderful mothers around me. (And I’ll probably still give a wide berth to my online feeds.) But I’ll also deliberately spill my admiration of her. To my husband. To my family. To my friends, to God, or anyone else who will listen. And to her, even if I can never deliver the note.

This approach may not be helpful to those who dread Mother’s Day because they have a strained or absent relationship with their mom, or a yearning for a child unborn or lost. But I pray we can all find healthy ways to face the hubub, because mothers certainly deserve more than one day a year to be revered.

And this lucky mom feels very honored, loved, appreciated, and encouraged by my amazing husband, son, and family. It’s been a wonderful, near-perfect day.

you can’t always get what you want…

C.S. Lewis - blessings

i don’t often encounter an opportunity to quote the rolling stones and c.s. lewis at the same time, but the stones’ lyrics have been running through my head for the last few months and lewis always has a way of injecting Truth into my perspective.

i recently arrived at the revelation that almost all of my moments of misery in recent years have stemmed from the same source: a desire for something i can’t have. i’m not talking about wishing for material things or a more adventurous life or exceptional talents–while those feelings do arise from time to time, they never stick around long enough to make me discontent. i either decide to work for those wants, or determine they’re not worth sacrificing what i already have.

no, what i’m referring to is a longing for something that is an absolute, definite impossibility. i want a future that will never be. one in which my child(ren) and my mom have the kind of special relationship i had with my mother’s mother. one where i can seek my mom’s advice on everything from fashion and decor to parenting and leadership. a future where she and dad grow old together, and live out the dreams and plans they began building in their teens.

when we lost mom, i assumed that i would go through life missing her and occasionally (or frequently) feeling sad that she was taken from us way too soon. eventually i reached the point where i could accept and acknowledge those emotions as they came and continue to function “normally.” but this mindset of allowing (not suppressing) those moments started to seep out at the edges. all of a sudden, i had given myself permission to entertain extended bouts of gloominess from dwelling on the unfairness of being stripped of “what could have (should have) been.”

recognizing this (and facing it) has been transformational in both my daily mood and long-term healing process. now i see that this attitude of regret has been holding me back from embracing my actual future. not that i won’t still have moments that beg for her presence and stir up thoughts of what-if, but i’m done craning my neck to wistfully lookey-loo at the alternate reality i wish were true. i want to look backward with deep gratitude for the treasured memories and forward with anticipation and appreciation for the good things that continue to come our way. because good things are happening.

on new year’s eve, my father married a wonderful woman in a special and celebratory event. for many reasons i don’t have time to enumerate here, it seems evident that God brought them together. loosening my grip on the what-if mentality has allowed me to see that this new relationship is absolutely the right step for my dad, and our family. when they sealed their vows with a kiss at midnight, the happiness i felt was full, genuine, and free of the reserved and awkward and melancholy feelings i had been battling for months. (okay, it was a little awkward to see my father kiss another woman, but, ya know, baby steps.)

now, you’ll probably never convince me that the version of the future without my mom could ever be as ideal as the version with her in it, but given the available options, i want to choose to celebrate the best possible revision of our story. i can see God rewriting the pages into something joyful and restorative.

…but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.


my beautiful titu

on friday, my titu stepped into a well-earned place in eternity. the impact she had on my life cannot be overstated. i immediately turned to one of my most comforting outlets–writing–to process all i was feeling after days of holding 24-hr vigil by her side in shifts with family. this is part of what i wrote the night she died, some of which was shared at her her memorial service yesterday.

it’s nearly impossible to know me and not know about my titu.* she was such an integral part of our family and an important relationship in my life that you only have to be casually acquainted with me to have heard of her. if you are from my hometown and have met my family, you’ve probably met her.

and if you’ve met her, you adore her. instantly. love flowed freely and unconditionally from her heart–you felt enveloped in it the moment you entered her presence. her care was so genuine and affectionate, her words so uplifting and sugary sweet, her generosity so selfless and excessive, that it was at times overwhelming. when you were with her, you felt like the most special person on earth.

i’ll always remember her extravagant greetings to me. every time i would call, she would say repeatedly, “you sound so good to me!” and when i would walk in her room for a visit she would exclaim, “oh, it’s too good to be true!”

2007 titu & t

growing up, my siblings and i were fortunate enough to live close by and spend abundant time with her. we were the envy of our out-of-town cousins. most of my childhood and teenage memories include her, because she was just as involved in my upbringing and extracurricular activities and accomplishments as my parents.

my friends all adopted her as their own and called her “titu” as well. she lived with my family for the last 15 years, first in her house while we were building, then in her own suite attached to the new house. after i moved out, we talked nearly every day on the phone, and i looked forward to sleepovers in her room when i came home from college for visits.

2009 lunch in norman

she was the true matriarch of our family, fusing together her children and grandchildren (“titu’s troops”) like super glue. she instilled a high value for family in her brood, a priority which was passed from her parents–the legacy runs deep and strong. for many, many years, she and her nine siblings committed to gather each year near their childhood home on the east coast to walk the boards in ocean city and generally have a raucous and memorable time.

she turned 93 in april of this year. and then again in may ;). (yes, she celebrated two birthdays. she was clever like that.) she maintained good physical health into her late 80s and fantastic mental clarity until in the last months when low oxygen levels caused intermittent fogginess. and even then, when she was on, she was on! she had the gift of gab, an impeccable memory, and a sharp sense of humor. conversations with her were never dull.

2008 group photo gatlinburg

she reminded me so much of my mom (although it’s probably more accurate to say it the other way around). they both had an extra-special quality that left an unforgettable impression. i know it seems far-fetched for me to speak about both my mother and grandmother in such superlative terms, but it’s the truth. friends and family can back me up on this one.

i’ve clung to the shadows of my mom i recognized in titu for the last three years. it’s been especially difficult for me to process the déjà vu of witnessing a slow decline in health in someone i love so deeply. and the burden i feel to step up and carry on where they left off is heavy. they’ve left a rather vast swath of positive influence and i’m feeling quite unqualified to fill in. i pray and trust that in time God will cultivate the pieces of them buried inside me.

2008 patti and mom

last week stephen colbert’s 92-yr-old mother died, and he gave a touching tribute to her at the top of his show. his words conveyed precisely how i feel about my titu:

“I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long. But the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut.”

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*if you’re just tuning in, “titu” is lebanese for “grandmother.” except that it’s not the proper word; it’s more like a custom spelling of a slang derivation of an informal variation of the word.

many questions, one answer

“the most destructive tornado in the history of the world.” thousands upon thousands of families displaced. death toll rising. two elementary schools demolished. TWO! heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe it.

as our state cries, prays, pitches in (because that’s what we do), and mourns together, it’s hard not to ask the impossible questions. WHY would God allow this?! HOW is this part of His perfect plan?! WHERE is God when schoolchildren are clinging to each other while the building is torn apart around them?

even after decades of trusting and believing in God, my reflex is to cry out in frustration, sorrow, and anger. because while i can see God in the instinctive, selfless, generous relief efforts of the oklahoma family… it’s hard to reconcile the devastation and grief that destruction of this magnitude brings.

if there’s anything i’ve learned from enduring senseless, life-changing loss, it’s that God is still God, He is still Good, and He is still near. i’ve felt the pain and defeat of losing a battle despite our most earnest prayers, valiant efforts, and steadfast faith. i’ve questioned my convictions and struggled to find purpose in tragedy.

and i unreservedly choose — day by day, through each new trial — to glorify God and seek His divine comfort through the healing and rebuilding. He is close to the brokenhearted, and He’s not leaving.