Waiting to Exhale

Holding my breath.  That's what it's felt like these three long weeks since my mom passed.  We'd waited to hold the memorial service to coincide with her family's scheduled visit.  It made perfect sense. It would give us plenty of time to prepare.  It was a sound choice.  

Did I recognize I was holding my breath those few weeks?  Did I feel the unbearable fullness expanding within me?  I felt something, for sure.  Some knowing.  There was the initial shock and grief.  There were the intermittent sobs, reminders when I least expected them and on a daily basis.  There were bittersweet memories that came washing over me.  There was exhaustion, brain fog, numbness.  There were the many tasks that needed handling:  financial, estate, cremation, memorial service.  It all came fast and furious.  Every day.  Every hour.  Something.  Always something.

The day of her memorial service dawned warm, but cloudy.  The girls and I dressed in colors, textures, and styles that we felt paid homage to Mom/Grandma.  We chose pieces of her jewelry and clothing to carry her with us for strength and remembrance.  I could feel the anticipation, the anxiousness, the driving toward something.

The graveside ceremony took place by the memorial wall where my dad lay waiting for her in the ground and beyond.  A light drizzle fell as we assembled.  The pastor began, as did my tears.  My brother handed me the ashes to pour into the ground.  They shocked me!  What a small bag to hold a person who had always been larger than life.  I watched the dust rise from the pour and worried she was scattering.  Then each grandchild laid a rose in the grave, 12 in all.  I photographed each one.  The tears were flowing now.  I FELT.  I FELT IT ALL!  

We moved into the sanctuary for the memorial.  It began with a beautiful prayer, then a lovely hymn.  "Stay here," I urged myself.  "Stay in this moment.  Ground yourself."  I looked around and took in the window, the pianist, my sister, the minister, the flowers.  "I am here," I repeated over and over. Meaningful scripture readings by my aunt and niece followed, then a lively rendition of "I'll Fly Away" by a SSA trio.  My mom had requested both the song and the singers.  

The minister gestured toward me.  "Not now, not yet," I thought to myself. " I can't do this."  But I moved, tapping my sister, looking down the aisle to my brothers.  We mounted the steps and I took to the podium, my speech rattling in my hands.  I put my glasses on top of my head, as much to read the words on the page as to make the faces in the audience fuzzy.  "This is for her," I reminded myself.   

I began.  My voice cracked, tears sprung to my eyes.  I kept going.  I welcomed, I thanked, I talked about her final weeks, I described what I felt was the essence of my mother and at the same time, I shared a window to my soul, to my Little Girl who missed her mom, the Little Girl who couldn't comprehend that her mother was not here anymore.  I paused when I needed to, took a breath.  I finished in tears and my siblings embraced me.  I cried and laughed through their stories, enjoying our different perspectives.  

Back in the pews again, our retired minister gave his eulogy.  It was in his words and sentiment that I felt it.  "There are certain people that we just assume will be around forever.  People whose lives are so interwoven with our own life and our community's life that we simply cannot imagine them not being here, doing the work they have always done, sharing in our lives as they have always shared."  I felt the pain in my abdomen.  Yes! I thought.  That's exactly how I feel.  "..as much as we may have loved Pat, God loves her more and Pat belongs to God.  She always has and she always will.  We can be confident that our faltering grasp has been replaced by the steady and compassionate hand of our heavenly Father.  It is an embrace far more secure and far more loving than we could ever be, even at our best.  It is an embrace that will never, ever let Pat go."  And there it was.  The moment I had been somehow, unknowingly, waiting for, needing.  The breath I'd been holding for weeks began to rise, releasing from my body.  I felt a lightness.  I felt bigger and smaller at the same time.  And finally, there was joy.  True, complete, all encompassing joy.  Peace.  A smile spread across my face.  I hugged my daughter beside me.  I sat up straighter.  I looked around the church, this time with glasses on, and took in the community.  We were all here to not just mourn, but to celebrate - celebrate a life well lived and a woman well loved.  

I had been holding my breath, waiting to exhale, and when I did, I felt the peace and comfort I'd been searching for.

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