“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11
For months, I cried myself to sleep: “I want my mommy… I want my mommy… I want my mommy…” My little toddler heart was broken. And at first I didn’t want to have anything to do with the strange new woman called Grandma. Thirty years later, it’s hard to believe that Grandma’s house was ever uncomfortable for me.
One of my earliest memories is of a stormy night after my parents’ divorce. I can remember lying in a crib next to my sister’s bed. The rain was pouring down, whipping against the house and windows. The wind was howling like ghosts. There was lightning and thunder. I cried as loudly and franticly as I could because I honestly and completely believed that the house was going to be shred to pieces and we were all going to die.
Then my grandmother came to my crib-side.
I can’t remember what happened next, but the memory ends with me waking up calmly in the morning in my grandmother’s bed. She saved me. And her unfailing love gave me the foundation upon which I built the rest of my life.
When Grandma’s friends came to visit, she would introduce me to them: “This is my baby.” Over and over and over she said those words: “My baby.” Even as an older child and a teenager, I was always introduced to her friends as “My baby.”
Grandma’s house was my refuge. Her love was healing balm for my broken heart. Those words, “My Baby” reaffirmed over and over and over again that I was loved and wanted and claimed… I was hers.
On May 29, 2012, she died.
At the funeral, my husband had taken our kids into another room so they wouldn’t be a disruption. So I was sitting by myself, waiting for the funeral to start. My mom slipped in the back when I happened to be turned around. She would have found a seat off in the back, trying not to be noticed. But instead I motioned her over to sit with me. When one of the funeral speakers talked about how Grandma had always called me “her baby,” I put my arm around my mom. She put her hand on my leg. And we held onto each other until the end.
A few weeks after the funeral, I plunged into anxiety, quickly compounded by a dark depression. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I lost my appetite. I cried every day, multiple times a day. Life had thrown me a frightening storm, not so unlike the storm that had terrified me as a toddler. It beat upon me incessantly, and I honestly believed that I was going to die.
Then my mother came to my side.
Every week for nearly two months, she flew in from out of state to stay with my family. She laid by my side on many sleepless nights. She held me when I needed it even though she’s not a huggy person. She listened to me weep daily. She nearly forced food into me when I could hardly bear to chew and swallow. She played cheerfully with my children when I couldn’t. She told me day after day after day, “You’re getting better. You’re going to get better.” She saved me.
And it seemed so fitting that she would.
My grandmother’s oldest daughter, Paula, a little blonde, drowned as a toddler. When Grandma came to visit for my thirteenth birthday, she and my dad had a special talk. He mentioned how I had arrived on her doorstep, a little blonde toddler, at the same age Paula was when she died. Grandma was not a public crier. I think I only saw her cry once in my thirty-one years with her, but my dad said Grandma sobbed that night. My mother had actually given my grandmother a healing gift when she sent me to her home.
Once Grandma’s life-journey was through, it was time to give me back to the one who gave me life. So, in a sense, her departure was a healing gift to my mother. Though I would never have chosen to willingly endure what I went through last year, I would also never trade the powerful bond I forged with my mother during that terrifying storm. We healed so much in those intense weeks. We reclaimed each other.
Today is my mother’s birthday. I’ve never been more grateful that we’ve been blessed to share another year on Earth together. Without her, I wouldn’t be here today… and not just because she gave me life.
She proved to me last year that she would bend over backwards for me. I don’t know how I can ever adequately thank her for everything she did. But I want to make the very most of the years I have left with her, to not waste any more of them letting the past drive wedges between us. As far as I’m concerned, she eradicated all of those wedges when she showed up at my side to carry me through the storm.
Thank you, Mom.