I recently spent a week in Oklahoma with my mom.
A little over a month before, she got Covid.
And she was really sick.
And it was really scary.
Having lost my dad almost ten years ago, I am aware of the pain of losing a parent. I’m aware of the world-altering lightning bolt that pierced through my heart and changed me forever.
I’m also aware that my mother will die one day. Aware that it isn’t possible to live with the full weight of that reality on a daily basis. Or even the half-weight of that reality. I can loosely acknowledge the fact that none of us get out of here alive, and then my human fragility pulls me back to the comforting reality that she’s still here now. No need for further exploration.
The second Tuesday night of my mom’s Covid illness, I had a dream that my brother and I were at my mother’s house. We were going through stacks of papers, trying to find a paper that explained what was to be done with the family farm. It became clear, in the dream, that my mother had died, and we were looking for this paperwork as her surviving family members.
Within an hour of waking up from that chilling dream, my mother sent a text noting that thankfully she’d “survived the night” and that her fever had broken.
Was this hyperbole or reality?
Survived the night.
This dream-met-with-text combo led to a heavy and sobering phone conversation with my mother, in which she told me that she had two instances in the previous twelve hours where she thought she might be dying. She had even considered calling me and telling me to come home.
Through hot tears, the weight of an elephant sitting in my gut, and the younger brother of the lightning bolt piercing my chest, I came as close as I ever have to facing the reality that I will one day have to walk this earth without my mother present.
After my dad died, my husband said, “If this is how losing your dad impacts you, I’m afraid when your mom dies, we’ll never get you back.”
He may be right. Time will tell.
The weight of the reality of “someday” is heavy. And hard. And dark. And painful.
We can’t feel it every day. I can’t feel it every day.
In response to the encounter with this sobering reality, I flew home to spend a week with my mom.
Time is fleeting. Nothing is guaranteed. She could have days. Or years. Or could have already left. No time to waste.
While I was visiting, we spent a day going through a clear plastic tub filled with photos and newspaper articles from her life before I came into being. The people and experiences that formed her into the woman who became my mom.
There were black and white photos from elementary school. Middle school. High school. She remembered the names of almost every person. Sure, she grew up in a small farming town, but at seventy years old, she still knew these children’s faces by name.
In the wake of facing the truth that someday I will never hear my mother tell another story, I was beyond grateful to sit and listen to any story my mother wanted to tell. I couldn’t get enough.
There was a black and white photo of the family farm where she grew up. It was after an intense blizzard. High winds had blown the heavy snowfall across the land, but a building had blocked the flow, causing the snow to pile up high. Turns out, the building housed calves. The snow blocked the entrance, trapping the calves inside, unable to be fed.
My mom, around ten at the time, grabbed a shovel and got to work. She carved out a tunnel to the door of the building. Not a small tunnel that only she could fit through, but a tall and wide tunnel that even her dad could walk through without ducking. Success! They were able to feed the calves.
The next morning, she couldn’t move! Her body hurt so bad from the hours of shoveling the day before.
Within five minutes of seeing this photo and hearing this story, we came upon a newspaper article: Marla Lawrence spent the day digging a four-foot by six-foot tunnel to restore access to the calf building on the Lawrence farm.
She lived in a small town. This was big news.
Several months ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who had been catching up on my blog. She wisely noted that, even though we had known each other for almost fifteen years, she knew very little about my childhood.
Who was I as a kid? What were the experiences that formed who I became?
As a current friend, she is aware of the experiences that actively form who I am becoming. But how did I become the “me” she originally met?
She, again, applied her wisdom in noting that often when we meet one another as adults, we tend to ask questions around the five or so years leading up to meeting, and then, as the friendship grows, we stop asking “before we met” questions.
This all makes sense to me, but I’d never thought of it before.
She noted that in reading my posts, she began to wonder what stories she needed to write. She was quick to note they would be written for herself, not public consumption, but there were stories stirring in her, rising to the top, begging to be expressed. No longer hidden.
We all have stories within us. Stories that shaped who we have become. Stories of success and failure. Stories of belly laughs and deep woundings.
Some stories fade with the passage of time. Memories are brought back to the surface by photographs and newspaper articles, love notes and birthday cards.
Who are we if not a collection of stories?
I love the human story. The journey of becoming. We all have one. And we all have the need to be seen. Known.
What stories do you need to tell? And who might need to hear them?