My brother, the son my mother had longed for to complete her perfect family, was born December 4. I was six and my sister two.
Mother had graduated high school first in her class, landed a prestigious job as an executive secretary to the president of a major Pittsburgh corporation and married the man of her dreams. At the age of 28, she was a content wife, successful professional and fulfilled mother of three.
It was Christmas Eve and Santa’s gifts were hidden about our tiny four-room triplex. The air was fragrant with scents of moist nut rolls and iced sugar cookies.
Father was working the 3-11pm shift. My brother and sister napping, I was forming dough into tiny snowmen; Mother stumbled from the living room into the kitchen and fell to her knees. Holding her head in pain, her face contorted and eyes clenched closed, she shrieked in a terrifying pitch for me to get the neighbor.
I pounded on the neighbors’ back door laboring for a breath while trying to form and voice words. Mother asked for the phone and called my father; her voice weak with trepidation, she gently asked him to come home. In a calm modest tone, she found strength to hold back her foreboding pain. As she reluctantly severed their conversation and gently rested the handset back onto the cradle she permitted her hand to linger, knowing they would never again speak.
Mother was unconscious and vomiting as father carried her past me into the night.
Crying quietly on the couch, I gazed at baby Jesus in the manger; Silent Night was playing somewhere and voices were whispering. The phone rang as I covered my head and ears with a pillow. My grandmother, without expression on her face now sat on the coffee table in front of me and said in a monotone-muffled tone, “Mother is gone.” Having pulled the ring on a grenade, she stood and left.
As the explosion of her message resonated, “Mother is gone”, I needed to understand and told the lie, “Everything will be okay.”
The nightmare continued with her funeral: a three day non-stop ordeal. Father took me in early one morning debating whether the idea was sound.
It was so cold outside that day and I was dressed up in my Sunday best complete with hat and gloves. Mother looked peacefully asleep, beautiful in a powder blue lace and chiffon nightgown with matching robe. A bible, rosary and three white roses folded in her hands. I quietly stressed that Mother was surely really alive. She looked like she was sleeping—a Sleeping Beauty. Or maybe I was sleeping?
Then it was Christmas Eve again; a year had passed. I remained certain that I was somehow stuck in a bad dream. I never prayed to my mother. Praying to her was tacit acceptance. I instead prayed to the late President Kennedy and to God: “Let me talk to my mother.” I sat in a pew, again staring at Jesus in his manger. Everything around me was a warm golden glow with twinkling trees surrounding the nativity. I looked at my family, who were suddenly in slow motion and then freeze-framed. I had been sleeping.
I could hear “directions” in my head and did as instructed. I leaned over to see a woman dressed in a powder blue Jackie-O Chanel suit complete with hat and gloves. She glowed a shimmering aura of white and gold; beams of light came through the stained glass windows and illuminated her in an unbelievable rainbow of beauty. As I looked into her face, looking back at me was my mother!
Goosebumps overtook every inch of my shivering body; as every hair stood on end I felt warm inside. I tried to move toward her, to speak, to turn to my family but I was paralyzed. I could only look into the deep blue glistening eyes of my beautiful mother.
“Mother, I have so many questions,” I said. A calm overtook my amazement; I could hear and feel my mother in my thoughts. She said, “We will only be apart a little while.” Thoughts poured into me. I knew I wasn’t sleeping and had to continue living. I knew that when Christmas break ended I needed to learn at school, to be a helpful big sister and daughter. I knew everything would be all right. I felt an inner warmth from her presence. Knowledge and peace replaced the unknown and fear.
Mother looked at me as she smiled, the glow dissipating. I could feel her arms holding me. As she faded, Mother left me with one final awareness: “Every time you are overtaken with a warmth and at the same time covered in goosebumps, know that the Holy Spirit is with you, giving you strength, comfort and telling you, “Everything will be okay.”” I closed my eyes and when I opened them all was back to the stanza being sung by the choir before the freeze-framed-glow. God had listened to the President and granted my prayer.
Mourning is a process we do for ourselves; embrace the change and rebirth; rejoice that you will be apart a little while.
Author: Marie Peterson
Editor: Caroline Beaton