You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she willcome back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
She Is Gone - David Harkins
I recently heard a story about the experience of death in a small community in Indonesia. For that community, death is a gradual social process, a publicly shared transition, a process that transforms relationships with the deceased but does not end them. As we go about the coming weeks, months, and years, remember that. Our relationship with Mom is not over, only different. Because she was a part of our lives, we are forever changed.
For myself, my relationship with Mom will continue on in many of our traditions. As many of you know, Mom was famous for her Christmas cookies. Every year, she made around 15 different kinds of cookies. There were the essentials she made every year and then there were ones that rotated over the years as she found new recipes to try. And, of course, as she tried out more and more cookies, our family’s list of essential cookies grew larger and larger. So naturally, while we were in the hospital it became apparent my first job was to find Mom’s cookie recipes, which I did, because we’ve got to satisfy our holiday sugar fix somehow without her.
But her Christmas cookies only came around once a year. Mom also loved to play games, whether it was card games like Canasta or “I see the lake”, a game where whoever was in the car competed to be the first to shout “I SEE THE LAKE” at the top of our lungs every time we drove out to the cabin. And if no one else was in the car, well, she’d send a text with that phrase just reminding us that she was there and we weren’t. We also liked to go on adventures, whether it was recumbent bicycling on Cannon Beach, kayaking Alki in Seattle, or going shopping at the outlets, we always found something new and exciting to explore both near and far from home. In the last few years, one of our new traditions was going to Gonzaga basketball games, men and women’s, and even when I wasn’t there, we would talk about the games and share in the excitement over wins or commiserate over losses. This was one of the many ways Mom and I connected, my love of Gonzaga and her love of college basketball.
Beyond the traditions large and small, Mom’s determined strength and perseverance will forever impact how I live my life. Mom faced many challenges over the years, including raising two children as a single parent, taking care of two houses on her own, and struggling with her weight. But Mom never let that stop her. Once she decided to do something that was it. Whether it was joining Weight Watchers and losing over 75 pounds, fixing something at the lake cabin, or simply maintaining her unique sense of humor in the face of adversity, she was not going to let anything get in the way of her goals. Even during the toughest battle of her life, she would not let the cancer beat her spirit, even if it took her body.
In many ways, that’s how our relationships with her will endure. Although she will not be here this Christmas, her legacy of cookies will be, just as our on-going game of “I see the lake” will continue each time I drive out to the family cabin. Of course, Mom would grin and tell me that she’s the ultimate winner because she can see the lake whenever she wants now. That was Mom, someone who treasured love, laughter, and good-natured banter; someone who possessed a strength and determination many people can only dream of having. I’ll never forget her smile, her strength, her love, and what that has meant for my own life.
She always used to jokingly tell us to stay out of trouble, that she was tired of our principals, or whoever, calling and telling her what rotten kids she had. Well, so long as staying out of trouble means living our lives with the same humor, strength, and determination that she taught us, I think we can manage that. It might not stop us from playing a few jokes in her memory though, because someone has to.