My mom passed away May 23, 2015, four days after she underwent her second surgery to remove a brain tumor, 16 months after the first. Mom wanted to live, Dad couldn’t let her go without a fight, and the rest of us wanted to believe in miracles. So we prayed as intensely as we ever had prayed and never left her side until about an hour after she passed early on a spring Saturday morning.
The last eight months have been filled with experiencing all of those “firsts” that had to happen: The first June 18 in 55 years without my parents celebrating their wedding anniversary, her first birthday not with us, all of our first birthdays without her calling to sing to us, the first Christmas without her and so many other events that wouldn’t mean much to others but passed with great difficulty for her family and friends.
We are now preparing for our first Easter without her; that was indeed a holy day to Madge Eisenbath. I owe much of my desire to be a faithful Catholic man to my mom, but I’m not alone in that. She walked this planet for more than 75 years and, in simple ways, helped increase the faith of many other Catholics during that time. As much as she wanted to live, I know she stepped into eternal life with extraordinary joy.
With some of that joy, I daily think of her shortly after I get out of bed, as I ask her to pray for me and my family. Throughout the day, I remind her that my dad, my wife and kids, my sisters and their families all need her prayers.
I think my dad talks to her all the time, too, though I haven’t asked him about the subjects of their conversation. That implies two people talking. My dad probably talks – either out loud or in his head – and expresses all sorts of ideas; I hope my mom somehow communicates back to him, at least with a sense of peace. Dad visits her gravesite often, maybe three or four times a week before winter set in. My oldest daughter, Jessica, the eldest grandchild, was visiting regularly as well. They each made sure the grave stayed decorated with colorful flowers.
Me? I haven’t been able to do that. Don’t challenge me to explain. I never felt an urge internally or allure externally to return to the site after May 29, when her casket was lowered into the ground. I didn’t slog to the gravesite in June, when the area had a record rainfall. I didn’t venture to that shadeless area of the cemetery during the summer heat, nor did I brush leaves off the site during the mild autumn months. Dad and Jessica told me that the grave marker had been installed in early December, but I didn’t take them up on their invitations to accompany me to see it even though it’s less than a mile from my house.
Nothing drew me to the grave for the first 254 days after her funeral. I can’t say I avoided it. I just didn’t think much about it. No desire whatsoever.
Until now. Something whispered to me yesterday, during Sunday Mass, that the time had arrived. I thought about it throughout the afternoon. Taking my grandson to McDonald’s for lunch diverted my attention briefly. Hanging out at a Super Bowl party in the evening kept my ears and eyes and mouth busy – though it couldn’t distract my mind. I felt the tug throughout Evening Prayer and as I tried to sleep Sunday night. Every time I awoke during the night, as I fitfully tossed and turned before finally getting out of bed about noon Monday, while I drove to work and tried to focus on my tasks at hand – gently came the suggestion.
So here I stand at the cemetery – which somehow sounds better than “graveyard” — at the foot of Mom’s grave in the Monday evening twilight. The sun set just a few minutes ago. It’s frightfully cold, probably low 20s. The wind is biting out of the west, making snowflakes swirl in the air around me before they settle and begin to accumulate lightly on the brown grass and frozen earth.
“Mom,” I think, “are you here?” I can say nothing else. The cold doesn’t matter, even though I can feel it hard against my cheeks and through my pantlegs. Tears well in my eyes, my first true cry since the funeral, something I have been attributing to my anti-depressants. I try to explore why I can’t find the words for prayer; my mind tells me simply to be quiet, stand and be. Just be.
Several minutes pass. Finally, swiftly taking 35 steps, I return to my car. Though chilled inside, at least I’m out of the wind. I’m not ready to leave, not even to start the car for a little heat. Closing my eyes for a few seconds, I remember that I have a rosary – one of my mom’s many rosaries – within reach. I take the beads in my hands and say the Apostles’ Creed, an Our Father, three Hail Marys and a full decade. I don’t meditate on any particular mystery or intention. My mind feels vacant, my heart full yet broken, all at the same time. Abundant tears pour down my cheeks.
I’m ready to head home. First, I look back toward my mom’s resting place. I see the small, bare tree that stands just a few feet away from the headstone. “Mom,” I say out loud, “I miss you.”