“I’m going to get off the phone now.”
“Mom, tell me you love me.”
“I love you honey.”
“OK mom, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Feeling discouraged, I hung up the phone and sank back into the sofa. Mom didn’t feel like talking very long…again. What took me off guard this particular evening was that I had never had to ask mom to tell me she loved me. In all of our family’s emotional dysfunction, we still ended every phone call with I love you. But nothing was normal anymore.
Six days prior, I had wheeled mom around Victoria Island in British Columbia, Canada because she wanted to attend high tea at the Empress Hotel. As we (mom, sister, Aunt, me) drank tea and ate sandwich wedges, mom’s vacant eyes, bloated face, and labored breathing betrayed her hopes and desires for the experience. My familiar hypervigilance left me exhausted and deeply concerned.
Mom was in her ninth month of battling melanoma cancer and her body was deteriorating rapidly. I was in full resistance that the end was close at hand. After our weekend on Victoria Island, I asked my mom, dad, and sister if they wanted me to stay home instead of rejoining the LPGA Tour in Rochester, NY. They insisted I go…and so I did. It was normal and expected for me to leave, tour life often separating me from my family by thousands of miles every week. When I left that Monday, with my mom in the hospital, ambivalence cut my soul in half.
I was worthless on the course that week – anxiety and fear ravaged my body. So much so that I withdrew from the tournament after the first round (a first in my professional career) due to an old back injury crippling me with pain. My body held what my mind could not.
Things were not okay.
As the days passed, the conversations steadily diminished and I felt burdened with indecision. I hung on to my plan to return home after playing 3 tournaments in a row, but I couldn’t figure out why was I compelled to spontaneously ask mom to tell me she loved me that Friday night?
I slept fitfully with anguish flanking me on all sides. My life was spinning out of control as I wrestled between the decision to stay put and rest my back before heading to St. Louis or return home? By early evening, however, the option to make my own decision vanished.
My sister’s voice cracked on the other end of the phone, “Mom is gone.”
“What?” I whispered.
My body froze and I could not feel the receiver in my hand. My mom was dead!
My sister described what the last several hours had held for mom. 911. Paramedics. Violent attempts at resuscitation. Regret crawled all over my body as my imagination colored the scene as if I was watching it with my own eyes. I should have been there. I should never have left. I should have…
Really, it is God’s grace, usually unnoticed, protecting our hearts in the whirlwind of death and regret. And it was God’s grace in the middle of my whirlwind that helped me remember that conversation – the last words I ever heard mom say to me. I didn’t know the end was near, but God did. And in the months that followed, and over the years since, that last conversation has danced in the shadows of my heart.
Mom’s last words and her imminent death rendered May a month that I have hated for nearly two decades. Each passing year, I believed it was easier to numb the pain of my silent grief of her absence with counterfeit substitutes.
My resistance to surrender to the reality of death – both tangible and intangible – in my story of trauma has been strong and unkind to my heart. The aftershocks leave me hostage to shame which separates me from the care I need, long for, and is available.
My mom’s voice has faded over the past nineteen years and I struggle to hear the pitch and tone of her I love you. Today, however, I am choosing to honor the gift God gave me when I asked for what I needed – I love you.
As an athlete, surrendering to anything goes against everything I have been trained to believe, but what I am learning is that surrendering to death with Jesus is the only way to open more space for the cycle of grief to tend to my soul. It is in the wake of surrendering where resurrection hope for something new is beginning to peak over the eastern horizon of my soul.
* Written for redtentliving.com May 30, 2017