Late last week I ran into a friend at Starbucks — she and her husband, along with another couple I know, recently traveled to Turkey and Greece, and I couldn’t wait to hear all about her trip. Our conversation soon changed, though, taking a turn that brought so much back to me.
We’d talked in the past about traveling, about literature, about our favorite places and places we’d like to go. We’d also shared our experiences with caring for aging parents. Before she and her husband and our other friends had made this trip, we’d met for coffee and talked about Athens in particular.
Their trip had been wonderful — Istanbul, other sites in Turkey, a cruise, and then Athens. While they were on the Acropolis, though, she received a phone call from her brother. Their mother was dying. Within hours, and with the help of the travel agent they’d used, she was on a plane back to Lake ‘Charles.
The flight back, she related, had been a challenge. Was her mother still living? Would she get back in time to say goodbye?
Finally, she had to find out. Telling her story to a flight attendant led to the flight attendant finding an in-flight telephone for her to use, even using her own credit card when my friend’s cards wouldn’t work. The brief conversation with a sibling reassured her that their mother was still hanging in. Returning to her seat, she soon found that the other attendants also knew the story, sending her food and treating her with immense kindness.
Once she’d returned to Lake Charles, she was able to do what we all need to do — hold her mother’s hand, tell her that she loved her, and that it was alright for her to go. Being able to do so, reassuring her mother that they’d all be okay, had been her goal, and she’d achieved it.
One more goal remained: speaking at her mother’s service. She had, she told me, been inspired by a friend of hers who’d given a lovely tribute to her own mother at her service. As she told me this, about writing and delivering her own eulogy for her mother, I found my eyes filling in sympathy, as indeed they’d done on and off throughout the time she was telling me all about this.
What a wonderful thing to do — and to manage it without crying! Though I’d thought of giving such a eulogy at my father’s funeral service in 2012, I’d not done so, partly because I feared that I’d never be able to complete it without totally breaking down, but also because it seemed so out of the norm for anything our family had ever done.
What I did, though, was write the obituary for him. Writing — that’s something I can do, and tears over the laptop during the drafting of the obituary didn’t bother anyone. I could (and did) sob and break into tears, when to lose control at the service, in front of everyone, was simply not acceptable. Years ago, I remember, at my uncle’s funeral, my dad had reminded us that Wares mourned with dignity. Tears in a total loss of control? Not done.
I wish I’d managed to do what my friend did, but I couldn’t. I admire her, and her strength.
When my dad died, unable to rely on my control over my tears in public if I tried to give a eulogy, I fell back on my own strengths — words and writing.
I was there for my sister, my aunt, my cousins, our extended family and friends. Kay and I shared decisions, but I knew that Dad would expect me to set the tone and to make things as easy as possible for everyone. It was important for me to honor Dad in a manner that he would have expected.
As we sat there at Starbucks, I listed to Sharon relate what she’d gone through, and what she’d done. It was fortunate that there were napkins around, because I needed them to blot my eyes, a number of times.
No matter how distant in time loss is, it’s as recent as someone else’s loss, close enough to the surface to break through, to overtake you.
Listening to my friend Sharon talk, I was so happy that she’d been there for her mother. It’s important, It think, to be there, to hold a hand, kiss, and say that you love someone, and that it’s alright to let go, that you’ll be alright. I firmly believe that our loved ones hear us, somehow, in those moments. Perhaps, too, it’s important for us to verbalize those thoughts not just for them, but for ourselves as well.
Sharon, you’re a great daughter. What a wonderful gift to your mother and your family, and what a comfort to you yourself. Not everyone manages what you did.
Here’s to all the daughters and sons who find their own ways to honor their mothers and fathers in the difficult times of loss.