Monday, November 16, 2009

A Song For Mom

I’ve written about my mom’s song before. But it is something I never expected to last through the years. Just a few months after her death I was driving down the highway, well after dark, and a song came on. It was a popular song at the time, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, from the soundtrack of the movie The Bodyguard. I had heard it many times before. But this time it meant so much more to me.

The reason I was in the car, driving late at night had everything to do with my mom’s death and how it turned my world upside down. With his wife of thirty years suddenly gone, my dad had to figure out a new life. Jeff and I lived just thirty miles away so I spent many nights and evenings in my parents’ house, helping dad sort it all out. Sometimes I took our two babies with me and some nights Jeff kept them at home so I could have some time alone to sort things out.

On this specific night I had stayed pretty late. It was hard to tear myself away from that house, the place where most of my childhood memories lived and the place where I found refuge from the ups and downs of finding my way in the bigger world after high school. It was hard to go through that big front door and not have a loving voice call out, “My Ju - deeee!” from some distant room. But it was twice as hard to exit out that front door, never having received that warm enveloping hug and bright gracious smile.

On the drive home I couldn’t help but think about her. How I never got to say goodbye. How I never knew if she realized we were there, after she collapsed on the country dancing floor from a stroke and was rushed to the local hospital. We held her hand and said encouraging words as our tears dripped onto her hospital bed sheets, but we never knew if she was aware of our presence or heard our desperate pleas.

At first I didn’t think much about Whitney’s song. Then the second verse came on. My ears caught her every word. “I hope life treats you kind. And I hope you have all you've dreamed of. And I wish to you, joy and happiness. But above all this, I wish you love…..I will always love you.”

The lyrics pierced my heart. It was exactly what my mom would have said, had she been given the chance. Her last goodbyes would have been most of those words, if not all of them. I cried the rest of the way home. Sobbing, choking, ugly sobs that make you thankful you are alone in a dark car. I knew this song was a message from my mom. Her way of telling me she would never really be gone.

The song was popular for a while then it faded from the radio waves. I rarely heard it. But when I did, it was at the perfect moment. Years later, looking through pictures of my growing children with my mother-in-law and wishing I could share them with my own mom, and suddenly that song would come on the radio. My only daughter’s thirteenth birthday, driving home from a movie she and I shared without all the boys in our family, thinking of how my mom would have adored this child who shared her name, and that song came on the radio. In the seven minute drive home from the movie theater, that song came on. I couldn’t help but believe it was my mom, reassuring me that she was there, seeing how great my life was turning out.

This week I am packing for a rare trip back to my home state. My four siblings and I have only all been together once, with all our spouses and kids, since my mom died fifteen years ago. We decided it was now or never, so we are driving 1300 miles in two days to get there. This weekend was the first time I let the thoughts of possible sadness creep into my trip planning. So far it has all been about gathering appropriate clothes and books and electronics to keep everyone busy on the long ride. But over the weekend I started to realize I may have some tears when we get to Missouri. We will visit the cemetery where the reality of her absence always hits me hard. We will be in so many places around town that are ripe with memories of her and the things she loved. By last night I was just a bit melancholy.

In a quiet moment after dinner, when all the kids had scattered to other parts of the house, I walked into the kitchen to see if there were any chocolate chip cookies left. The radio in the corner of the kitchen was on, but very faint. I could barely hear it, but it was loud enough to know what song was playing.

Her song. That song that lets me know she still loves me, always will love me. I let myself stand in the kitchen alone, leaning against the counter, soaking in that song and all its words mean to me. I thought about how much life had changed since she left the planet. How differently it had turned out than if she had stayed. How I have four really great kids, who she would have loved and adored, and how much they missed out by not knowing her. I let the tears flow and made no apologies.

Then it was over and I was ready to move on. On to packing DVDs and board games and favorite pillows. I know it will be sad, at moments, when we get to Missouri, this place that is saturated with memories of my mom. But I also know she would have loved the whole idea of this trip. She would love that we are all making such an effort, to come from far away states, to gather together and enjoy each other’s company. It was exactly what she would have wanted. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I hear that song, her song, at some point along the way.

On a radio station in Illinois, or Ohio, or Indiana, it will come on and I will know. I will know that she will always love me.

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