Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A change of heart

"I hope you never hear those words. Your mom. She died. They are different than [sic] other words. They are too big to fit in your ears." (Mitch Albom, For One More Day)

All right, so his grammar isn't perfect and his book editor didn't pick it up either (these Americans... sniff) but Albom kind of hit the nail on the head. These aren't nice words to hear.

But I have had to hear them, or words to their effect.

Fortunately, my version was kinder. My ears didn't feel the slightest bit enlarged or bombarded, because I knew before I reached home that day ten years ago. I knew even while I was driving home from uni, knew there was no harm in dropping my car-pool friends off because I wasn't going to make it in time to say goodbye anyway. I knew the moment I walked in the door and the afternoon quiet was a different sort of afternoon quiet, a stillness that felt as though someone had flung an invisible film over everything and even the cobwebs under the stairs were banned from quivering in the wind. I knew when I saw my brother come down the stairs, as though he'd been waiting to hear my car. Waiting to meet me the moment I walked in the door so that I would not have to ask. Waiting to come close, look me in the eye and whisper, "Mummy's dead."

I have never spoken of that moment to anyone. It got lost in the jungle of officious tasks that materialises when a family member dies. We had a very distraught grandma and aunt to tend to, phone calls to make, authorities to notify. Soon enough, everybody who mattered knew that my mum had passed away. How I found out became an insignificant detail not to be bothered with.

I think that's how part of me, too, got lost in that jungle, a teenager bewildered by the sudden reality of life without her best friend.

It's comforting to know that that part of me was never lost alone, though, because my brother has always been in my memory of that moment. And out of everyone in my family, I can think of nobody I would rather have to break the news to me. For my boisterous, energetic, umm, hefty brother can also be my gentle, sensitive, tender brother when occasion requires.

Occasion did require, and he didn't fall short.

I don't know why I felt I had to write this post. It must be important if it's got me out of bed after midnight. Maybe it's that I know, even now as festive songs jangle in my head and I can't step out on the streets without passing a car that has antlers and a red nose, that sometime in your life, you are probably going to have to hear those words too. And if I don't write this post now I never will, and you'll never read it, and then how will it help you when you need it?

I pray that whenever your turn comes, you will have as gracious a messenger as I did.

I know. The timing of this post really does seem a little incongruous with the season. But life and death don't seem to respect our preference for convenience and congruity. I had to accept -- or should have accepted -- that fact when my mother died a week before Christmas Eve. I think ten years is long enough to spend being angry with God for his apparent bad timing. More than long enough.

As misleading as it looked to begin with, this post is a joyous one, and filled with thanks that I am finally able to express with no strings attached. I think the gratefulness only came, could only have come, when I stepped off my "Yes, God, I do know better than you, and that's why I have a right to say your timing sucks" high horse and admitted that no, I don't know better because I don't have a clue at all.

It isn't as though I don't miss my mother this time of year, because our family had some crazy (in a good way... mostly) Christmases back in the day. But even taking into account the trees, the presents, the food, the cousins, the music and the laughter and the colour and the not being able to sleep and not being able to tell whether it was from overexcitement, indigestion or the fact that 14 people were crammed into our made-for-six-at-the-most-any-more-and-you're-pushing-it home, taking aaaalllll of that into account, I am able to say with all my heart that I know I am blessed and that for every tear I have cried, I'm going to have some massive smiles. And then some. I've checked, it does work that way.

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