When the wagers are over
And the die is cast
All the speculation laid to rest
When our number is discovered
And spoken at last
Were we praised, were we loved
Are we forgiven, are we missed
Did we let go of our fortune or keep it clenched inside our fists
Through the air it turns till it lands and comes to rest
Have we loved, have we learned, are we blessed
- Kevin Michael Higdon, Fortune's Child
* * *
Yesterday my mom slipped under the waves and out into infinitude. I am told she took a nap and passed that threshold quietly. I hope it was not so. I hope it was something better. I hope she was awake to it. I pray she recognized it and finally, finally, finally just let it all go.
There was a partial solar eclipse on the day she was born. The White Sox lost to Cleveland 11 to 2. Science News published an article "Dogs Get New Kind of Training to Serve as Guides for the Blind." The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article about the effects of blood loss from repeated blood donors. And Paddy and Mary Deegan brought a daughter, Mary Patricia, into the world. She would walk among us for 30,404 days.
That's a lot of days. I knew her for the last 19,671 days of her life and of those days I cannot recall very may times when she was happy, or at peace with herself. She was a remarkably resilient woman. Tougher than shit and it seemed to do her no good. It is a dangerous and foolish thing to project onto another life any sort of judgement about how well or poorly that life was lived. It is dangerous and foolish because we can only see the effects of how that life was lived. We can never know what it was like to make those decisions, those omissions, and what drove those choices. I can tell you facts only:
• when she was just a few months old her brother, Jackie, aged 3, died
• later, her parents, broken by loss, would tell her the wrong child died
• she won a full academic scholarship to an all-girls Catholic college but was told by her mother that she could not accept it, "Do you think you're better than me?"
• she was 19 when she married a great guy
• she had two healthy sons
• she and her husband quickly built a successful business
• jealousy unraveled the business and they never recovered
• if there was a pyramid sales scheme, she was there
• if there were bills to be paid she ignored them
• she smoked Pall Malls, 2 packs a day, until she quit suddenly in 1980
• she could suffer, but not sacrifice
• she wanted to let go of her anger towards her mother, but never could
• love did not rest easily with her and affection was never displayed
• she taught her grandchildren how to play poker
• the night her husband died she could not face it and went home to wait for word
• she wore large earrings and wigs her whole life
• she was aware of the encroaching dementia and it sent terrors through her
• there are no good photos of her
• bootstrapping was a way of life for her
• she was afraid to die and died alone
Is this a life's story? No, no, no. I cannot give her to you in full because she did not give herself to her time, to her life in full. Always there was a shadow of despair, of things not being right, of it not working out, of wanting something better, more, something that could finally fill the hole her parents dug in her heart. The tragedy was not that her parents blamed her for their broken-ness, but that she found the cure, held it in her hands and knew it not: at 19 she married a great guy, had two healthy sons...
* * *
What fucks us is the fear that we're not worthy of the life we have, that we are too broken to be able to make any of it come right. Here is what I know, here is what my mother taught me - though she never understood it - it was taught in the obverse: you are enough, you are it, you are the answer you seek and your presence here among us is to be used to find all the ways that is true and so embolden another to understand that they are enough, they are up to the challenge of living joyfully among their sorrows.
* * *
Years ago, my son asked me what happens to us when we die. I told him I didn't know, but that I believed we became cosmic, absorbed back into the mystery, part of everything. Not a heaven or a hell. Not a rest after labors, but infinitude. I do not know what has become of my mother other than to say her body, so very worn out, was cremated and turned to ash. It's history of private touch, its scars and failings spent in a fire, released, forgiven. Her spirit, her soul is beyond me as well. The time to use one's spirit is while you're alive - that is what makes it a soul - and her spirit (so intransigently fragile, so remarkably durable) abides in memories and teachings and I suppose she cannot truly be gone until those who knew her are gone. But if the difficult lessons I learned from her life are, in part, transformed into the words here and the words here are brought into your life, then in a way, her work is extended and branches out into unknown countries.
For her, she would want the heaven and the rest.
For her, I hope she has found it.
Mom, I know how hard you tried. What you didn't know was it's not hard at all. You were loved. You were forgiven. You were blessed. May angels sing you to rest.
* * *
She had one request of me from years ago to play a certain song at her
service. She outlived all who knew her so I don't know what sort of
service there will be. So you'd be doing me a solid if you'd listen.
* * *