I got sick recently, for the first time in what seems like a long time. I travel extensively and have been pretty amazed at how infrequently I get sick. I do have allergies that pop up depending on the climate I am in—but rarely do I have a cold, the flu, etc.
My husband and I spent time with my Mom in her skilled nursing facility in New Mexico in the week preceding Christmas. I was excited and nervous (as usual) to see her. I knew it would be emotional. I knew my heart would ache. I knew I would feel things I didn't want to feel. And I know this is what life is all about. Love is everything. It brings the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. To quote the lyrics of The Bitter Earth, one of my favorite songs performed by Dinah Washington:
This bitter earth
Well, what a fruit it bears
What good is love
Mmh, that no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
Oooh, that hides the glow of a rose
What good am I?
Heaven only knows
My mom has always shared her love. But she speaks her heart so much more now, at 94, she says what she feels—she is like an open rose.
I was so tense the first few days of our visit, trying so hard to keep myself together. I did not sleep well—my body was trying not to grieve--but it was...I was...grieving, fighting, trying so hard not to fall apart.
Then one day, in her room, as I held her head in my hands, I began stroking her hair, and kissing her head and her face and my heart just took over and started to speak. It was like it bypassed my brain and found its voice. I am not even sure of exactly what I said. I know that I told her how much I loved her. Over and over I said this, just as she has been doing so much lately. I told her how grateful I was for her being her, for my life, for everything. I told her that I loved everything about her, and our lives together. I know that I meant what my heart said.
My husband was there too. He told me, as we walked down the hallway that leads out of the skilled nursing wing, still crying but feeling relieved, and more than a bit broken, that what I said made her so happy. I felt more broken open, because my mom taught me that the heart expands; it heaves, then it heals. It is resilient. My mother taught me this. She taught me how to love.
My husband said, "Honey, I am so glad you did that, that you said all those things. You should have seen your Mom's face. She was beaming. You gave her the best Christmas present ever. You made your Mom so happy. I am so proud of you."
This is exactly what my Mom said after my heart's outpouring. She said, "This is the best Christmas present ever!"
Oh, this bitter earth
Yes, can it be so cold?
Today you are young
Too soon you're old
My mom is 94. My brother and I sold her house very recently. Her house of 50 years.
"I have nowhere to go now," she says. "That is where you kids were raised. Your dad is there. All my memories are there... I miss the blue carpet in my kitchen."
"But don't worry, I will get over it."
My Mom! She is still teaching me how to feel, how to love, and how to let go. She is still teaching me how to live.
I think my heart, my lungs, my whole body just collapsed after we left New Mexico for a vacation in Hawaii. Tom and I were in a beautiful place and I was having trouble breathing. My chest was congested and burned as I coughed. Fever, aches....grief. I was grieving. I think sometimes a flu is like bitter earth. We need it too. How much bigger than us is our love? What is this love?
but while a voice
Within my cries
I'm sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth,ooh
may not, oh be so bitter after all.
I listened to this song over and over when I was sick in Hawaii. I watched the beautiful ballet by Christopher Wheeldon and the NYC Ballet that accompanies Dinah Washington's soulful voice. I watched and I coughed—and I cried and I gradually got better.
My heart, and my lungs, know what love is. I learned this, I am still learning this, from my life, and from my Mom.