I was afraid to go up to my father’s casket and say goodbye. I was a kid, having just turned 12 years old the day before he passed away from a sudden heart attack on a family trip to an amusement park.
From afar, it looked to me like he was just taking a nap on the couch, but the problem was, his chest was no longer rising and falling.
My mother put her arm comfortingly around me. “Come on,” she’d said, “I’ll go with you. It’s okay, honey.”
I was so scared, but I trusted her without a doubt.
We knelt there together, the two of us. I stared down at his handsome face, a slight smile playing on his lips, like he was planting green peppers and tomatoes in the most amazing garden up in heaven.
“You can touch his hand.”
I hesitated for a moment, but then I went ahead and tentatively touched him lightly with my fingertips. His skin felt like cold marble, icy and extremely disturbing to such a young girl who loved her daddy as much as I did. I quickly took my hand back before I started crying.
“He’s so cold,” I’d admonished to my mother, a bit queasy.
“Yes,” she’d replied softly. She didn’t need to explain further.
I’ve never forgotten that significant moment in my life, going on close to 33 years ago.
Now at the adult age of 44, although her hand was indeed bitterly cold, I hadn’t wanted to let go of it. I was the last one to leave my mom before we journeyed to the cemetery for her interment next to my dad.
Someone called my name, I don’t recall who, but I hesitated before I finally placed her hand back where it belonged and somberly walked away.
The emotionally distraught part of me wanted to jump inside the casket with her, but the logical part instinctively knew that I had to continue to live my life.
My job here isn’t done.
I’d promised her before they took her back to surgery, which I think we all knew wasn’t going to end well, that I’d fight my fucking hardest to stick around this place, even when my mind lies, telling me that everyone would be better off without me. She truly understood that it wasn’t my fault, but an unfortunate symptom of my mental illnesses.
If she could suffer as she did for so many years and could continue to keep breathing for over 12 hours without machinery, how could I not see that as a clear indication (sign) that life is precious and worth fighting for?
I asked my daughter if she wanted me to go up with her to say goodbye and to hold the gentle hand of her gramma one last time. She shook her head.
“I held her hand while you went to go rest in the family lounge,” she’d replied, tears welling up in her doleful blue eyes. “I even fell asleep for a bit. I’ll never forget how she felt, like I just couldn’t get her to warm up.”
Lukewarm is better than glacial, isn’t it?
Life is often filled with full circle moments.
A mother comforting her daughter decades later, offering to go up with her to say a final farewell to her beloved gramma. To protect her by offering solace and unconditional love during such a grief-stricken time, even when her own heart was pulverized.
I’ve never realized until now how much we must have given our mother a renewed purpose in life after my father passed away, leaving her with two young children to raise by herself. I’m sure that she must’ve had a desperate moment or two of wanting to give up, but she stuck around because it wasn’t her time to go yet.
I’ll strive to carry on her legacy of grace and courage.