I didn’t know why, but last Sunday I was in a blue funk all day. Woke up that way and couldn’t shake it. Mike played golf. I did this and that, trying to distract myself out of the grasp of the dark mood.
“Michael,” I said just before dinner. “Can I get a hug?”
“Of course, Ma’am, I’m always Willen,” he bantered, but feeling something unusual in the tightness of my embrace he asked, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I’ve just been sad all day. My body is full of tears, right up to my cheek bones.”
After a bit of reflection I thought maybe the sadness was a sticky remnant leftover from a dream I’d had the night before, Saturday night. Since the dreams preceding my liver transplant were so prophetic, I pay close attention to all those I remember upon waking. In this one, I was sitting in a large auditorium. My Mom and two of her friends were sitting in the row behind me. I saw myself lecturing several young women in the seats next to me about how hard my generation had fought to achieve the equality and opportunity they now took for granted.
And then we began to hear rain hitting the windows and roof. Big rain. Thunderous rain. Anxiety mounted as the crowd realized how hard it was raining and the danger of the water coming in and rising along the floor of the auditorium. Many people found their way out, including the girls I’d been confronting. My instinct was to run also. But Mom and her friends, they couldn’t walk quickly; they couldn’t fight the pressure of the water. What should I do? There was no way I could save myself, my Mom and the other elderly women. I was frantic as this feeling of powerlessness flooded in as quickly as the water rising. Mom and her friends struggled and I struggled. The takeaway message I had to accept: I couldn’t save my mother–the woman who fought so hard to give me all that I have to be thankful for.
No wonder there were residual tears on Sunday.
These intense feelings congealed all day until Sunday night there it was, full-blown heartache. It literally felt as if my heart was a stone in my chest. I ached bearing up under the weight of it. My heart wanted to break open. Deep inside I carried the heavy truth: I want to save my mother’s life and I can’t.
When the phone rang early Monday morning, Mike took the call. It turned out to be “the call.” It was my brother Josh saying Mom had died after 91 years of giving her all to her family and community. After surviving two mastectomies, fighting four years of depression and progressive dementia, bearing up under three months of chemo for uterine cancer without complaint, and silently keeping her spirit intact during five months in home hospice care.
Josh said that Mom had spent a fitful weekend, was alive when he left for work, waited for her aide to arrive and said good-bye to her by simply opening and closing her eyes before leaving us all behind.
Mom struggled this weekend and I believe I felt her struggle. We were both sad to say good-bye. This is a belief I share with others as I talk about the miracle of transplant surgery: we are all connected across time as well as space. We are connected by unseen forces difficult for the human mind to understand, but accessible through faith. “One heart feels the other,” is what Grandma Becky, my mother’s mother, taught me. My own experiences, this weekend included, validate this belief for me.
So what then is there to say about heartache? Heartache is the necessary result of yearning for that which you want but can’t have. To dare to love is to risk heartache, both in the process of seeking, building, and eventually sensing the loss of or separation from what we cherish most.
I’m comforted in my loss by another experience; one I had in the shower this morning; after Mom’s passing and shortly before I will attend her funeral. As I lathered my hair, I suddenly felt those were not my own hands massaging my scalp. I was once again a dark-haired little girl with eyes tightly shut leaning back in the tub, shoulders supported by my mother’s strong left arm, while her right hand coaxed bubbles from the shampoo to loosen my curls and let her fingers and the warm water drift down the heavy strands. It was a delicious, soothing visceral memory.
Mom is still with me. Love doesn’t end. It is the tie that binds us forever. Heartache is simply a reminder that the connection is still there.