eleven years.A Single Clap of Thunder
eleven years have gone by and today is the exact same day as it was back then: may 11. mother's day.
has it been eleven years? it can't be. it seems like it was just last week. then again, at times it seems much further away. eleven years. eleven years and it is exactly the same. i believe this is the first time we've come upon a repeat of the exact same days.
those of you who know me well, or have been reading since the beginning (all 3 of you) know what happened eleven years ago. for those of you that don't, i am going to share. i don't want your pity or condolences, i just want you to read and try and understand what has become a huge part of who i am. the best way i can think to do this is to share with you what i wrote for my senior english class in 1999-2000.
“Great show last night,” Mr. Bradley said to my theatre class on the morning of April 25, 1997. Mr. Bradley, a short man with a strong resemblance to Mario from the popular Nintendo game, was the theatre director at Klein Forest High School when I attended there. My classmates and I picked up our chairs and formed a large circle in the center of the black box, or as we liked to call it, “the little theatre.”
The class settled down and we began discussing our performance of “The Diviners” from the previous night. Our double cast characters gave us notes and we reviewed the show. Near the end of the period, a student aide emerged from the tall black curtains hanging from the ceiling and handed Mario a slip of paper.
“Kristen, it’s for you,” he said as he held the paper out to me. There was no Kristen in my class.
“It’s Katie, Mr. Bradley,” I said. “Kristen is my sister. You’d think after almost an entire school year you’d be calling me by my own name.”
“Sorry,” he laughed. “I haven’t done that in a long time, though. Here you go.”
I took the paper, expecting to see a note from the counselor about my schedule for the next year. Instead, in my hand I held a piece of carbon paper, which meant an early dismissal. I knew something was wrong. I grabbed my bag and ran to the front office at the opposite end of the school. I walked in the office and saw my father sitting in a chair, his eyes puffy and red.
“Daddy?” I asked, “what’s wrong? Is Mom okay? She’s not, is she?” Tears began to form in my eyes and I tried to fight them, but the battle was lost.
“Katie,” he said, “the nurse said your mother is in the final stages of dying and that you should come home. Mrs. Brand is here to take us home. I’ve already called Kyle and Kristen and they’re trying to get home.” Kyle and Kristen, my siblings, were in the Dallas area at college.
My dad hugged me as we walked out into the rain to Mrs. Brand’s car and went home. My high school pastor, Eric, was already at my house by my mom’s side when I got there. He greeted me with a hug and sat me down next to my mom’s bed.
“John’s on his way,” Eric said. “ I’ve called Tony and we’re trying to get a hold of Mike.” John, Mike, and Tony were the rest of the guys on the youth staff at my church. Mike was out of town at a conference, so they weren’t sure if they would get a hold of him.
“How’s she doing?” I asked the nurse.
“She’s not in any pain,” the nurse said. “She can hear us, but she can’t respond. Talk to her, let her know you’re here.”
“Okay. Mom? Momma, it’s me, Katie. Momma, I love you. Please keep fighting, Momma. I know you can. I love you, Momma. Keep fighting.”
Within the next hour, almost my entire family was in my house. Kyle and Kristen were at DFW airport trying to get on the next flight home. It was hard to say when that would be since many flights in the Dallas area were cancelled due to severe weather.
After sitting by Momma’s side for two hours, I got up and went into the den where Eric, John, and Tony were. They gave me hugs and we sat down.
“I can’t watch her die,” I told them. “I can’t just sit there and watch her slip away. I’ve been doing that for the past year and I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to go back in there, I can’t.”
“We won’t make you,” Eric said, “but I think you should go back in there later or you’ll regret it the rest of your life.”
“I know. I just can’t, not right now.”
“Hey, I want to see this guitar you’re always telling me about. Where is it?”
“It’s upstairs. In my room. It’s Momma’s.”
“I’ve never seen your room, either. Let’s go look at that guitar, huh?”
I led the three of them upstairs to my room and showed them Momma’s guitar. Eric picked it up and started playing. It helped take my mind off Momma for awhile and gave me an emotional break. Then we went downstairs and they left to eat lunch.
“We’ll be back later,” Eric said. “Here’s our cell phone numbers. If anything happens, or if you need anything, call us right away.”
“I will,” I said. “Thanks for coming guys. It means a lot.”
They left and Kristen called to say they were still working on getting home. It was about 12:30.
I went back in Momma’s room and talked to her some more. I told her things I remembered and how much I loved her. Around 1:15 I went into the kitchen to get something to eat since I missed lunch at school, but everything I looked at turned my stomach. I sat in the kitchen, praying that God would at least let her make it until Kyle and Kristen got home. Then I went upstairs to my room to get away from all my relatives, trying not to focus on the dying woman in the room below.
Around 2:45 my Aunt Linda came upstairs.
“Katie,” she said, “we think it’s almost time. You need to come downstairs.”
I followed her downstairs and she sat me in the chair by Momma’s side. I began rubbing Momma’s shaved head because she always said it felt good. Dad was on the other side of her bed holding her left hand. The rest of my relatives and a few family friends stood at the foot of her bed. Her breathing had been strong all day, but she was now struggling to get air. Kyle and Kristen still weren’t on a flight.
Her breathing seemed to stop a few times. Every time it did, I whispered in her ear, “Come on, Momma, breathe. Come on.” Every time I did, she managed to start breathing again. My mom’s brother, Uncle Randy, began reciting Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” he said, “I shall not want...”
There was a loud clap of thunder and Momma slipped away. It hadn’t thundered once all day. She was gone. I kept telling her to breathe, like I was expecting it to be like a movie where you think someone’s dead, but someone tells him or her to breathe and they do and they get up and they’re fine. But this wasn’t Hollywood. This was real life.
Damn Hollywood for not letting us see reality, for making us think that nothing bad ever really happens, for making us think death isn’t final, for putting us in the frame of mind that everything will always be okay, for teaching us fantasy and saying we live in a perfect world. Everything won’t always be okay. People aren’t always okay, we don’t live in a perfect world, bad things do happen, and death is final.
The room was one big sniffle except for one person sitting in a chair, still rubbing her mother’s head.
“It’s sounds like a commercial in here for Kleenex,” my dad said.
The room laughed momentarily.
“That sounds like something Bitsy would have said,” Aunt Linda said.
“I was just saying it for her.”
I went upstairs to call Eric. The phone rang as I reached for it.
“Dad?” the person on the other end said. It was Kristen. My dad had picked up the phone just before I had. “Is Mom alright?”
“Kristen, you’re mother’s gone,” he said.
“NO!!!” she screamed. That’s when I started to cry. It finally hit me that Momma was gone. It also hurt that my sister was in so much pain so far away from us. She called to say she and Kyle were on the next flight home. The three of us hung up and I called Eric, who was already on his way. Then I called my best friend, Abbey, and left a message on her machine since she wasn’t home from school just yet. I told her that my mom was gone and asked if she could come over. Then I went downstairs and waited for Eric.
Eric showed up and I met him outside in the rain. John showed up not too long after that. Tony wasn’t able to get back, but Eric had been able to get in touch with Mike. We found out the flight Kyle and Kristen were on and Eric drove my sister’s best friend, Paige, and me to the airport to pick them up.
Their flight was delayed, so Eric bought the three of us dinner at the airport, but I still couldn’t eat. When their flight came in, they were the first ones off the plane. The three of us stood in the middle of the airport, crying and hugging. We got their luggage and went back to the house.
Abbey and her dad were waiting at the house. I took Kyle and Kristen into the bedroom where Dad and Uncle Randy were and we said our last goodbye to Momma. We cried and knew we were starting a new adventure. Momma had a smile on her face. It was still raining outside, but it hadn’t thundered since Momma slipped away.
mother's day has always been a little difficult since then. and this may sound weird, but that very first mother's day seems to have been the least difficult for me. that first year was rough, marking the passing of each month, first holidays without Momma, but mother's day wasn't as rough. maybe because it was so close, i was still dealing with just the loss of her i couldn't even begin to think about the impact of a holiday.
that first mother's day, may 11, 1997, my brother and sister
came in to town for the weekend. we went to lake jackson, texas to be with my dad's family. surfside beach isn't too far from there.
before Momma died, she'd made it very clear (years before she ever got sick, actually) that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered into the gulf of mexico at surfside beach, where she had been baptized. right after she died, my family and i were trying to figure out when to go and do that. after my siblings came home from school, sometime later that summer, when? then i suggested we do it that mother's day. it was only a couple of weeks away, but i thought it would be fitting to let her go on mother's day. to let our mother go.
so that sunday, exactly eleven years ago today, my uncle ted drove us out to surfside. we opened the wooden box holding my mother's ashes, and, handful by handful, the four of us set her into the gulf and let the waves carry her away. my uncle took pictures for us, and after the last was washed from the box, we stood there, looking out into the gulf, sending Momma on her way. then we turned around, my sister put her arm around me, and we didn't look back.
it was so emotionally charged and yet very freeing at the same time. this was what Momma wanted. this was her final resting place, in the waters that washed over her as a young woman as she surrendered her adult life to our loving Savior and Heavenly Father. a moment she never looked back on, only ahead to her final resting days with Christ, striving every day from then on to become more and more like Him until He decided it was time. she was at peace.
i hate the way america does mother's day, the commercialism of it all. the truth is that mother's day shouldn't have anything to do with giving birth, not from a biblical perspective. when God made eve and brought her to adam, adam named her eve, which means the mother of all things. she hadn't given birth yet, not even been pregnant. and making mother's day all about the woman who gave birth makes it hard for me to see the part of God that is feminine.
God created man in His own image; male and female He created them both. women are made in the image of God. he's our heavenly father, but he's also our heavenly mother. there's that feminine side to our savior. the compassionate comforter who wants to hold us to his chest and gently rock us to sleep. the mother hen who wants to hide her brood under her wing. the things we associate with our mother.
that's how i want to view mother's day. not just a day about celebrating the fact that a woman was able to reproduce, but a day about thanking all the women in our lives who "mother" us. the little old lady who always bakes us cookies. the school librarian who loves on the schoolchildren. the young lady who can't have children of her own but takes under her wing teenage girls and disciples them. the older sister who does what she can to take care of and love on her younger sister when the woman they love the most is taken away. these women should be honored on mother's day. not just those who have children.
but for today, i will think of my mother, of the wonderful, godly woman she was, and i will remember her and honor her. and maybe one year i'll return to surfside for mother's day, just to say hi.
Labels: family, holiday, mom, remembering, writing