I've been counting down to February 18th, 2017, since the day after New Years. It marked the day when there would be no more holidays the first time, no more birthdays for the first time, no more events that we were used to having all together where now there is a huge hole where mom used to be. This blog has been rattling around in my head and my heart but unwritten and unspoken because I wanted both to get it right and to pretend like it was no big deal.
It is a big deal. Still. Maybe always. Because for the rest of forever who I am will always be informed and affected by going through this rest-of-my-life without her. Every day is like a tally mark in my head, "It's been x number of days since I talked to my mom." Sometimes I'm fine, I'm fine for days, and I can talk about her and think about her and it's almost fun because she's such an amazing, interesting, fun person. And then other times I hear a song, or I'm making a comment in a discussion, or especially anytime I'm sick, and I miss her so much it's a physical pain in my gut. My eyes burn and my head hurts and I try to pull myself together. But I can't. There's a hole in my life here that my mom used to fill, and nothing else fits in that space.
That hole is like a missing piece in the puzzle that makes up my life. Everyone's life is made up of pieces in a puzzle, and every piece is a specific person, or responsibility, or belief, or place, or memory, or action, or anything that's important to you or part of you. Some pieces are bigger, some smaller. When we gain things they become new pieces, that we build around or leave on the periphery depending on how much they matter. My mom's piece is gone, and no other piece will fit. That hole where she connected in my life will always be there, and it will always stay the same size. But what changes is what percent of the total puzzle that hole represents.
Which is what's been going on for all of us over the past year. We miss her. All of us. We also have faith, and talk frequently with each other. More pieces for each of our puzzles have been added, some more important than others. Stephen and Judy are going to have a baby! That's one of those puzzle pieces that becomes central to everything else. Steve also moved his music studio out of his house and into a professional office. Judy switched jobs to one closer to their home. I've gotten another job designing buildings and interiors for commercial projects. (Not in place of my other jobs; in addition to them.) Ciera and Bryant are expanding their business and as their children continue to grow they are even more involved in sports and extra activities. More pieces adding more life to our lives, more experiences to our stories.
Perhaps the biggest change for any of us is dad. He got a Harley! Which he's always wanted, and which we're all happy for him to have. It's beautiful and shiny and loud. And he started dating again. He asked us all first how we would feel, before he did anything, and he and I had a series of very honest, clear conversations about what dating again would really mean and the possible outcomes. These took place in April and May, when she hadn't even been away for three months and the edges of the wound were still very fresh. And I drew my dad out in these talks I asked specific questions and wanted answers, which led him to share things with me he likely wouldn't have brought up otherwise. Like that the type of women he would want to date would be strong and faithful in the church and would want nothing less than a temple marriage. A forever marriage. Sealed.
Gulp. On the one hand, of course, that's obvious; anyone we would be comfortable accepting into our lives would need to be a person who would support my dad in his faith and his temple service to the fullest extent. On the other hand, I have NEVER been comfortable with the idea of polygamy. And he already had my mom. Why would he need anyone else?
Silly question. There is a definite subset of those who are better with someone else than they are alone. This subset is called most humans who have ever lived ever. And I wrestled with this; it hurt my stomach. It made my chest ache. It made me angry and scared and doubtful because how on earth could that possibly be okay?!?!
Remember at this point he wasn't seeing anyone in particular. In fact, he hadn't dated at all. So why was I getting so worked up over a hypothetical? Because I knew in my heart it would happen. Call it precognition, call it the Spirit, call it knowing my dad really well, whatever you want; I knew this was something we were going to need to come to terms with, somehow.
I had people tell me, "Well, maybe he'll find someone who also was widowed, and who just wants to be married for time." This does happen- I've seen it first hand. But that wouldn't be the case for my dad; I don't know if I was being stubborn or pessimistic or if I had been given it to know, but I knew.
Faith is a strange thing. Sometimes the answer, "Just have faith," is enough; sometimes it isn't. For me, this was one of the latter. I'm not even 100% able to explain why, even to myself. But this moment, for me, was a crisis of faith unlike any I'd experienced before. I was still reeling and broken hearted from her being gone, and this idea of my dad getting sealed again to someone else felt like too much. Going to church at all during this period was difficult for me; being around other members, reading the scriptures, doing anything spiritual at all was painful. Not only emotionally. I was having anxiety attacks getting ready for church on Sundays. Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sharp and burning chest pains, the whole deal. And I would feel like that for the entire 3 hour block, every week. Why would I keep going? At the time it was a mix of habit and desperation. Because I believed. This was my church, and even though every time I felt the Spirit it felt like tearing open that wound of losing her again, it was going to be okay because I was going to be with her and my family forever. I had hope it would get better.
But how was I going to face her in that glorious someday and introduce her to my father's new wife?!
I didn't feel like I could really talk to anyone. I couldn't talk to my siblings, because I didn't know how they were feeling and I didn't want to make their struggles harder if they were already struggling or mess up their balance if they'd found it. I couldn't talk to my dad, because he was suffering enough and I was worried if I expressed my fears and failings and pain that he would stop confiding in me. I could talk to Will, my husband, because he would listen and love and empathize but he'd already carried me so far and held me up so much that I didn't want to burden him with more, especially since he had hard experiences of his own going on. (Side note- in all honestly my refusal to talk was more about me than about anyone else. I should have talked it out, especially with Will.)
How. How could this possibly be okay? What kind of faith was this that took away my mother, who was so good and so brave and helped and served everyone she met, whether they wanted it or not? Then, even though we'd all been faithful and true and stalwart, she was gone, and we were supposed to find ways to be okay with that. Then we were supposed to find ways to be okay with my dad finding someone else. And THEN, as if every other question wasn't enough, we were supposed to find a way to not only be okay with but be glad about my dad getting sealed again, to someone who wasn't my mom, but who would now also be my dad's wife forever.
Don't stop reading here. Don't stop in the middle, because this next part is where, to me, things really become important.
I did not look for answers. I did not scour the internet for talks from church leadership on why this would be okay, or even right. I also did not search the web for people experiencing the same thing I had, the same crisis, the same lack of direction or disillusionment. Because a) I didn't think any of it would help me, and b) it wasn't about what anybody else was saying. It wasn't about what anybody else was experiencing, or what they felt, or believed, or choices they had made or hadn't made or even what my dad did next.
It wasn't about them at all, regardless of who "they" were. This was about me. Me and what I believed and what I wanted, not just for my life but for my soul forever. And so I sat in my big comfy brown chair in my bedroom and thought. I did this on and off for weeks, whenever I had the chance, going through all the moments of my life and how I felt about them and who I wanted to be and what I thought really mattered. I thought about what would happen in my life if the gospel was true and I followed it, and what would happen if I followed it and it wasn't true. And then I thought about what would happen if it was true and I gave it up, or if it wasn't true and I gave it up.
I wanted to give it up. I wanted to believe it wasn't true, and I had no obligation to continue doing something that continued to be painful and hoped if I stopped going I would stop having weekly anxiety attacks. I wanted to believe that it was all random, and that no one decided that taking my mom away would be better than letting us keep her. It seemed kinder; it seemed easier to walk away and not have to care about what would happen next because if there was no next, so it didn't matter about here. I could put down all the weight of eternity, and all in the world I needed to care about was getting through whatever day I was living.
I was so ready for something to be easy.
I wasn't ready to blame something else for my life being hard.
And I have always been stubborn.
My mom once said to me, "You never do anything halfway." (It was actually part of a funny story.) She's not wrong. I couldn't let it go. I wouldn't. I'd had my doubts and my trials before this, I'd felt abandoned and picked on by the universe and completely alone, but this was the first time being obedient and making all the "right" choices (i.e. going to church, fulfilling my calling, reading the scriptures, etc.) was painful and punishing and not doing them felt safer, better. Basic biological stimulus=response would be pain=avoidance. If it hurts, don't do it.
But what about walking. Learning to walk, you fall down. A lot. I'm something of a pro at this because I've had to learn to walk twice, once at one and once at twenty six. And both times it hurt. I've been told I fell down and cried as a baby, I don't remember that. I do remember the second time and going through months of physical therapy and intense pain and when I took steps and fell down it hurt. When I took steps and didn't fall it HURT. Putting weight on that broken and wounded knee was pain so intense it was beyond physical. It was emotional pain, and I had anxiety attacks before going to therapy appointments. But I went. Three years later I was in the best shape of my life (didn't last).
Sitting in my chair in my room by myself, I made a choice. I made it for me. It wasn't about my dad. It wasn't about my mom. It wasn't about anyone else's story, or life, or choices, or beliefs. It wasn't based on anyone else's influence or affluence or eloquence or preferences or persuasiveness. It was a decision based on what I ultimately want, and who I am.
I am someone who has learned to walk. I am a believer.
This faith, this religion, was my choice. And I was not going to let the actions or inactions of others to dictate what I believe. What I feel, down in the deepest and darkest parts of me, must be the truth. Because something in me that I can't even articulate knows that somehow when we learn enough to understand and rise enough to see that it will all make sense. All the science and technology and religion and faith and matter and gravity and light and darkness will finally become clear when we get to the point where we are ready to comprehend just how large and complex and interwoven the truth actually is, and we here and now are like blind men touching one part of an elephant and trying to use that one part to explain the nature of the whole.
I was snagged on one thing that I didn't understand, and it was pulling my whole soul down. It wasn't a small thing, or a ridiculous thing, it was in fact one of the largest and most important pieces in the puzzle that forms my life. It was and is a thing worthy of having a crisis over. But it allowed me to look under the pain I was experiencing, the grief I was feeling, the confusion and loss and fear that had me reeling and forced me to find my center. And in my center, I believe.
This took place mostly in late April and early May. In August of last year my dad shared with me a quote from the Ensign in a talk by President Henry B. Eyring, which I was grateful did NOT come out while I was in the middle of my soul searching. It would have felt trite in the middle of my turmoil, but as a testimony after, was healing. President Eyring was concerned about the state of his family in the life after this one, because of the choices some of the people he loved might make. He was told, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”
I don't speak or read ancient Hebrew. I don't have the training or the background for it. But that doesn't mean I immediately disbelieve someone when they do have the knowledge and translate something for me. All I can do is decide, when I am experiencing pain, whether it's the fight or flight kind of pain or the kind of pain that's the price for growth and progression. I'm going to continue doing my spiritual therapy until I'm in the best shape of my life. Because what I believe is everything, and what I want is forever.
The most faith promoting books I've read in the last year were all by Stephen Hawking. Just FYI.
And did my dad start dating again? Oh yeah. In fact, I was absolutely right. He is engaged and planning on being married in the temple to someone wonderful. Her name is Bridget, and out of everything I could tell you about her, I'm going to stick to just a few main points that I am absolutely convinced are part of that grand and omnipresent truth.
Bridget was always meant to be a part of our family.
There is no other woman in this world or any other that I would be actually happy about my dad remarrying.
My mom had a lot to do with this happening, and she feels the same way about Bridget that I do except that she would insist on calling her Kathy.
On February 18th of this year we were all part of a text conversation, sharing our grief and love with each other, and our hope. This is what my dad said to us all:
"Very true. And even think about what she has experienced since her passing. I believe she has seen and held our Savior Jesus Christ! Face to face! She is very happy, and is doing His holy work. And part of that work involves us! Personally. Many of us have seen her about this work. How can our faith be weakened? It is strengthened manifold. And our sorrows can be swallowed up in the joy of what is really happening! This is all part of the great Plan of Redemption, the plan of happiness. Almost every person on earth goes through what we have gone through, without exception. As we grow up, we all lose our parents, friends, siblings, and finally, spouses, but the losses are only temporary, and strengthen us as we rely on Christ to help take away our sorrow. We are a positive happy people. We have the truth! Onward to the victory, the glorious resurrection and reunion with our heavenly parents and loved ones, never to be separated again.
"I remember how sad and distraught Sara was with that broken body after the surgery and failed attempts at rehab, her being home in bed and so down because of her physical condition. Helpless. It was the saddest I ever saw her. And I also saw how she began to change and accept God's will for her. It was hard, but she did it. Then blessings started to come. She could still kind of talk, and she bore her testimony to everyone who came to see her. She overcame her last obstacle before she passed. And ever since, I keep hearing accounts from others of how she had served them and helped them, things I never knew of before.
"Part of what breaks my heart the most was and is watching my children mourn for the loss of their mother. It is a natural and necessary part of life. Almost everyone goes through it. But as a parent, the pain is more severe when our child suffers, than when we ourselves suffer. Do you know what I mean?
"One of my favorite verses of scripture concerning death, written after a war:
While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness."
My dad is amazing. Several days later he sent over two more comments to me.
"Over this past year there are two things that have amazed and strengthened me.
"First is the amount of acts of kindness and service that Sara did while she was alive, that I never knew of until after her passing. The accounts still keep coming to this day. What a marvelous tribute this is to this wonderful lady. And I believe the same is true for each faithful Relief Society sister, countless acts of Christlike service happening each day.
"Second is the amount of service and blessings that Sara has done since her passing. So many accounts of her touching the lives of others after the funeral, things that are too sacred to discuss, but that have actually happened. She is still about the Lord's work, and is still engaged with us on this side of the veil while she is on the other. Amazing."
He isn't wrong. If you haven't read Ciera's post, the one just previous to this, do it. Have tissues close by.
My mom is still a huge presence in my life. Sometimes I can even feel her nearby, almost hear her talking to me. I know she misses me. Misses us all. And I know she's happy and very involved with our lives and with all the things going on in them. It's weird because the counter in my head doesn't feel accurate- the last day I spoke with my mom on this earth was at 11:30pm on February 16th, 2016. But she couldn't really talk anymore, even though she tried. We held hands and I said a prayer, told her I loved her and I knew she loved me too, and I would see her in the morning. But since then she helped me pick out what flowers to plant in my front yard this past summer; she was in the sealing room at the temple when I went in December. She's going to be there with us this summer. She's even been gently prodding me to get going with my writing again- I've had a really difficult time working on my 3rd book ever since she got sick (if you've read the second one you'll understand and hopefully forgive me).
Now I'm counting down to when there will be no more lasts. No more goodbyes, or last birthdays, or the last time you spoke with someone you love.
Or a last post on a blog you started because you needed to record everything that happened when your mom was dying. Because this is the last time we'll be separated. "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more..."
I will see you in the morning.