I lost a beautiful friend to sudden death exactly one year ago. We had known each other over a dozen years. She had an epic laugh. Living across town from each other, we didn't see each other all that often, except for a smile from one balcony seat to another across our large church on Sundays. After Jack died, I didn't hear much from her. I assumed that she, like others, had to do the hard work of trying to process a mother's nightmare come to life on her own time, in her own way.
The night we found out she died, so sudden and shocking, I got into my car and drove through the rain and darkness across town. I wanted to show up. Not because we had been that close in the past few years-- she had far better friends who would step in to take care of so many needs-- but because I had learned something about being there from the ones who drove through rain on another dark night for my family. I fought back feelings of, "You don't belong here," and pushed onward, in case my presence could do or mean anything at all.
A week or so later, my friend's precious daughter came to stay with us for a month to finish out the school year. I, too, knew the shock of losing a mom suddenly. The incredulity that the soft curves and the lap and the hair I knew as well as my own were no longer available to me in the way I wanted and needed, especially as a teenager finding her way in the world.
I don't know if I helped this sweet girl, a beautiful mix of sensitivity and strength, maturity and tenderness, but I know I was blessed by her presence. We talked about books we were reading. The pain of losing a mom. I hoped that she could see that early mother loss does not have to mean a bad life, even as I worried that I was not the best poster child for the good life. I just hoped my hugs, a very poor substitute for the genuine article, could substitute somewhat for a mama's hug.
I don't know if I told her anything remotely wise or meaningful during that month, but this is what I wish I'd said:
It's a hard road to walk without a mom by your side, and your mom was one of a kind! She understood you better than anyone except for God, and her love for you ran deep. You were her delight and her pride. She prayed for you, cheered you on, and cherished you.
Wait! Why am I writing this in past tense?
If I have learned anything from losing my mom and Jack, it's that the love you share is not dead. It did not die with your mom. That understanding and being known are still there too; in fact, she can now know those parts of you that were unspoken between you while she lived. You can continue to cherish, experience, and work through your relationship with you here and her "there" by telling her how you feel, and by keeping your heart open and soft, even though it hurts.
I'm guessing you are wondering if having her with you on earth for 14 short years is enough for her to "stick." I worried about this with my mom, too. But when I make someone laugh or help them feel good, that's my mom's influence coming through. When I share my mess with someone else? Mom. When you bake a pie, hug your future child tightly, or start some crazy big project involving fancy paper and tulle, that will be your mom. When your eyes light up with great big plans? What about when you buy a friend a thoughtful gift because it is just the thing to cheer her up? Yeah, your mom.
Sweetie, a mother's love is the stickiest stuff around. I know that even on hard days, my love is stuck all over Margaret here and Jack in heaven. You are your own person, and so are they, but you, made up of so many complex parts, will never be entirely separate from the mother-love that held you hour after hour, got to know you by peering into your eyes, unlocked the wonderful code of what made you tick, worried for you, and wanted the rest of the world to see in you what she did (and does!)
I know "there" seems so very far away, especially when you're such a hugger. I'd love to ask your mom if you were a cuddle-bug as a baby, because I'm guessing the answer is yes! You are the best hugger I know.
14 years were not enough, L.
You wanted more. You want more.
I do too.
But in this, I promise, fourteen years were more than enough to make her STICK.