By: MaryRose Cobarde Candare
Within a span of 10 short days, I met in close encounters two profoundly polar life experiences – that of birth and death. One fills the heart with joy. The other utterly breaks it.
My son was born 10 days before my dear mother died. I found meaning on why he arrived 6 weeks early when my mother passed. It was as if the rhythm of life was pulsating towards a compassionate order of things. Both unfoldings speak of the same great love and with it, and therefore the same unquestioning gratitude to the Giver of Life.
As the youngest of 10 children, my parents were nearly in their forties when I arrived. Although that is not a late age, I somehow grew up thinking how fragile their lives were and how I could lose them any day. For some reason I nurtured a very protective attitude towards them. This mindset was transformative to a child. It made me value them even on ordinary days. Growing up, it gave me reason to strive in school and serve at home.
My mother, I thought, was particularly fragile. She once told me she’d be lucky if she lives to her sixties, at all. It came as surprise how that number kept rising every passing year, despite her health issues and many close calls. It turns out, she was a fierce survivor of a woman. She bore and raised 10 children after all. That should have been all the testament I needed. Yet it was precisely the emotional and physical wear and tear of motherhood that rendered her delicate to my eyes. Then I realized that quite on the contrary, motherhood made her a dynamo. She braved it all. Ten kids. No explanations. Not once did I hear her complain about having too many kids despite it coming with too many burdens.
Grief visits in waves; ebbs in moments of acceptance only to be sparked again by seemingly inconsequential details like a favorite pancake, or a nickname or a hobby or a funny expression, a silly memory, or a favorite song.
There were many songs Mama and I sang between us, as we chatted, dissolving the distance that separated us; embracing each other at heart. I look back at countless photos, videos and voice messages and I take comfort knowing I stayed with her, remained present to and for her as much as I could. And she did, too. Stayed as long as she could, bearing the physical toll of old age and prolonged illness. She stayed long enough for us to be able to do enough, not for her sake but for our own. To rest our hearts with as little cause for regret as possible. So every shred of love is spent well and savoured longest.
God knows how often she must have wished for the end to come already. It was a fight to the end. I reflect on this and when grief overwhelms, the selfless part of me dwells on her being free of pain at last. This makes me let go of wanting so much to have her around no matter what. Because well-being matters. Because it matters that those we love stay around but not at the expense of their comfort.
When a loved one dies, we often hear this said: they will be forever missed. It’s true, of course. It’s also heart-breaking to contemplate because forever feels like an awful long time to be without an essential someone. So I choose to rest in the thought that thankfully all tomorrows come a day at a time. I could survive my own grief.
On our last chat, we spoke about memories and near-future plans, I told her how much I appreciate and honor her, we joked, we sang like we often do and then we prayed. It almost felt as if none of us wanted the chat to end. We kept staring at each other’s eyes for a long time. Told her if I had my way, I’ll be chatting with her all the time because it made me happy. Better yet, I’d be by her side all the time. Yes, this is how we chatted even on an ordinary day. We always connected like each video call were the last. That one turned out to be the last.
Most people recall last conversations with regret. “If I had known that would be the last time we’d talk, I would have handled it much differently.” I thank GOD there is no such regret to be had. Between me and my Mom there was nothing left unsaid. If anything, I only wish I could continue repeating the same words of love to her.
Grief. Gratitude. Grace. I embrace all these as I live and love onwards.
I will be strong. I’ll keep singing. I’ll whisper in her memory, I’ll be seeing you, Ma perhaps not “in all the old familiar places,” like we used to sing but somewhere much better! In that place where love and life never end.