January 6, 1978, was a Friday, like today, and on that day it did not rain in California, it poured. It was also, as it is today, the great Christian feast of the Epiphany or Little Christmas as we called it, growing up in my Irish, Italian, mostly Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn. And, it was my mother’s 50th birthday, or would have been. In what I have always felt to be some particular kind of weird irony, we (well, they, as you will find out) buried my mom on this day, 34 years ago. I mean, buried my mom on her birthday – isn’t that kind of weird? Maybe weird in a good way. Instead of unwrapping presents and opening cards, she herself was unwrapped; freed from all her pain and suffering to join the communion of saints, eternally alive, leaving behind a body that had served its purpose, like crumpled, balled up wrapping paper, awaiting recycling.
Which brings me back to the pouring rain in Southern California on January 6, 1978. I remember it so well because at the time, I felt it was a rain of tender mercy falling on me and my siblings. It had rained so hard that there were mudslides, and the folks at the cemetery deemed the grounds too dangerous to allow visitors. So following the burial mass (another whole story), my last glimpse of the casket was through the rear window of the hearse as it slowly drove away from the church, the actual burial to be completed when the rains stopped. I remember the profound relief I felt at that time; a relief mixed with shame that I wasn’t brave enough or mature enough or some other stupid self-judgment about how grateful I was that I did not have to witness this; did not have to stand there in the pouring rain watching the body of this one, the body that birthed me, the body I had tended with so much love and care over the previous 6 months, be lowered into the earth, never to be seen again. Of course I did not say this out loud, being the eldest sibling of 5, and lamented with the rest that we could not be there to see mom “right to the end.” But, oh, my inner prayer of gratitude could not have been louder.
And besides, I felt like I had already seen her to the end, walking with her every step of the way, as daughter and nurse, until the last, when I found myself up against a veil I could not cross with her. After she died on January 2, surrounded by her children in her own bed, I had only one niggling concern, and it left me ill at ease over whether I had managed her final moments well enough. Three days later, sometime during the night before her funeral, I had a “dream.” My mother was in front of me, in the blue robe you can see in the pictures. But she was huge, I mean, building size huge, and radiant, wearing an ecstatic smile. I put my niggling to her, asking if I had let her down, let her
suffer, missed the mark. As a nurse, I had had every pain medication you can imagine on hand to use at my discretion. In the day and hours before her death, I had administered exactly zero of them. “Oh no, sweetheart, no, no, no! You were perfect! It was just what I wanted. And see? I am fine; I am so very, very happy!” And that was it; she was gone. When I woke up, my heart was finally at peace, as it is now, remembering that Epiphany, that revelation of eternal life in but beyond all form. And yet, I have to tell you, I miss the life in form; I miss my mom. Still. Always.