I think the biggest struggle with my mother’s death, aside from the fact that she physically isn’t here to talk to me or give me advice or wrap me in an Elizabeth Arden-scented hug or make me a Mississippi Mud Cake, is that this is the first loss I’ve suffered without her.
When my father died, she was the only one who could adequately comfort me. The same when my grandparents and godfather passed away- she was the one who made this cruel world right again. She was the one who wiped my tears and prayed over me and for me. Mama made everything okay just by being alive.
I’m blessed with a husband and children and friends and a community who have said just the right things at the right time and consoled me beautifully, but there’s no earthly consolation like that of my mother. There has never been a voice to comfort me like hers. Her arms are the only ones that have ever successfully eased my grief.
I’ve cried buckets over my mother in the last five weeks, but a few days ago, I cried for my daddy. I cried for him for the first time in a while, and she wasn’t there to hold me and lighten my heartache with a funny story about something he did at an Eagles concert in 1978. I mourned him, alone, for the first time in my life.
And now I find myself grieving for my daddy all over again- 22 years after he took his last breath- and I find myself wanting to puke at the thought that both of my parents are dead. I want to be 8-years-old again, sitting at the Christmas table surrounded by them and my grandparents and my 101-year-old great grandmother and great aunts and uncles and so many others who’ve all been six feet in the ground for years.
I just feel like I’m too young to have lost them all.
For 22 years, I’ve thought of my life as having two phases. Before and After. BC and AD. Pre-Daddy and Post-Daddy. I recently found a photo of me clutching a Cabbage Patch Kid in my grandmother’s living room, and when I saw the date read 1991, I immediately thought, “That was a year before he died.”
I’ve told the story of my father’s death. I don’t want to tell it in detail again, but you can read about it here if you want. However, in summary, I was 11-years-old and home alone with him when he died, and as he took his last breath, I knew my life would never be the same. I knew my AD had begun.
When he passed away, I cried and ate a lot of fried chicken and missed a few days of school and spent the crappiest Thanksgiving ever at a restaurant where we all poked our forks at flavorless mashed potatoes and dry turkey, but I somehow managed to bounce back pretty quickly. Kids are resilient like that. And my mother coaxed me along the way.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I really, truly grieved my father. A teenage girl needs her daddy, and I sure needed mine. I, the fatherless girl, rebelled against my mother by binging on Boone’s Farm every Friday night and breaking curfew. I read some of her journal entries from that time in our lives, and I worried her so. Only her prayers got me home safely from teenage field parties. Only her prayers made me eventually turn my life around.
And during those teenage years, when I wrote poetry about his death and snuck outside to smoke cigarettes because that’s what angry girls without fathers do, my mother was right there to level me out. She’d take me into her arms and we’d cry for him together. She continued to sign my birthday cards, “Love, Mama and Daddy”. She pulled me aside on my wedding day and we shared a beautiful moment for him then. As she watched both of my children being born, she declared how much he would love them. Every year, on his birthday, we talked at length about him. But this year, on his birthday, she went to meet him.
She helped me get through the AD.
Everything was okay as long as I had my mama.
Now they are both gone and the word “orphan” keeps running through my head. I’ve always pictured Oliver Twist or red-headed Annie when I thought of orphans. I’ve never pictured a 34-year-old woman who curled up in the fetal position and wept because she felt like her history, her ties, her connections to the past were gone.
I’m no one’s little girl anymore. All I’m left with are memories of that Christmas in the 80’s when I opened a Nintendo and my daddy and I played Duck Hunt for hours on his new big screen rear-projection television. All I have are memories of them harmonizing to Bob Seger and Buffalo Springfield and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” in the living room as they both strummed Yamaha guitars. I’m 34 and all I have are memories of both of my parents.
I suddenly find it unbearable to watch television shows where adults, around my age, visit their parents. I can’t help but feel jealous of my friends who talk about their moms AND their dads. I can’t help but feel that they are both gone too soon.
Melissa Rivers says when a person loses one parent it’s like a comma, but when a person loses the second it’s like a period. And that’s how I now feel when I scroll through the photos on my phone and think, “That was taken after Daddy and Mama died.” I have a whole new AD. A whole new after. My after is no longer “Post- Daddy” but rather, “Post-Daddy and Mama”. I’m not just dealing with a comma now. I’m dealing with a period.
I learned at 11 that young, healthy dads suddenly die. I learned what it was like to be fatherless. I learned what it was like to have one parent. I learned what it was like to depend on that one parent for everything. But I learned at 34 that orphans aren’t just children who are left on doorsteps in baskets.
I have these gorgeous children who will carry on my bloodline, my father’s humor, my mother’s blonde hair and light eyes. I have these children who look to me as a direct line to their history. I have these children who will give me grandchildren and new ties and bonds. I am blessed with them to carry on my family.
I find peace that my mother and father are finally together, but I’m heartbroken at the substantial void in my family tree.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
**Mama always said, “I love this picture, but who’s bright idea was it to pose in front of the deer? I look like I have antlers.”