Grief. They tell you there are five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. What they don’t tell you is those stages aren’t linear and often feel like unrelenting tidal waves, where the undertow knocks your feet out from under you, only to be thrown back in to the towering waves, over and over again until you feel you’re drowning. In one of my favorite books, Uprising, author Fletcher Delancey wrote this about grief: “Why does it suddenly hurt more? Because it comes and goes. It’s the nature of mourning. Grief keeps its own calendar and pays no mind to our expectations.”
It’s been one year since Mom left us for a better place. And although I am glad she’s no longer sick, no longer frail, no longer weary – every single day, hour, and minute of this past year I’ve missed her something fierce. There are days when I wake up and I think, “I need to go check on Mom…” then I realize she’s not in the other room. Or something funny will happen and I want to tell her, so I pick up the phone only to realize she’s not on the other end. Or when I got so sick this spring and was afraid, but she wasn’t there to make me feel better.
There are days where all I want to do is sit on the couch with the dogs, blinds drawn, Downton Abbey or Star Trek on repeat, and forget there’s an outside world. There are other days I want to do something, but the grief is so overwhelming I can’t make myself get off the couch or leave the house. Sometimes I sit outside where she and I used to sit each morning and pray to see a cardinal, hoping it’s a day Mom will come to visit, all the while tears silently fall. Oh, I’m good at hiding it. I mean, I have to stay upbeat for my nephew, for all of Destiny’s social media fans, posting funny things and bits-and-pieces of our life. But deep down in my soul, the sadness remains in a place I simply can’t shake.
So many times I close my eyes only to see Mom gasping for breath at the hospital while I yell for the nurses to “do something!” watching them wait 20 minutes to give medication. I close my eyes and see how quickly she went downhill after I took her to that stupid hospital for the last time. I close my eyes and see only sadness. I close my eyes…
The day she died, I remember starting my day with “Good morning, Mama, I love you…” She smiled at me lopsidedly, eyes barely open, and I felt in my heart she’d had a stroke overnight. Seeing her lying there with such an exhausted look in her eyes, it broke my heart. No matter how much I didn’t want to acknowledge it, I knew time was short. I held her hand and told her, “It’s okay, Mom, if you have to go, you can go.” She closed her eyes, I kissed her cheek, and went about getting everything ready for her day, checking in as I worked on the paper.
Then came that final check-in and something told me she was gone. I stood there, frozen, not willing to believe my fierce, brave, and amazing Mom was gone. I mean, she always beat the odds, you know? And all I could do was cry, “Please don’t go, Mom, please come back. I really didn’t mean you could go…what will I do without you?”
That memory of her is so stuck in my head, yet I don’t want to remember her as frail, sick, a mere shell of herself. I want to remember the vibrant, funny, courageous person I was proud to call Mom and my best friend. I want to remember her as she was before.
So instead of sadness today, I’m going to think of happy, funny moments we shared and share them with you.
“Cyndi, over here, over here!”
One of the memories I’ll never forget is taking Mom to her first concert. She once told me she’d never been to a concert, so I managed to get floor seats for Cher! We were 20 rows back, but you would have thought we were VIP with how tickled Mom was! Our seats were in the middle of a group of gorgeous drag queens and Mom was best friends with all of them within 2.4 seconds of our arrival, gushing over their gowns, hair, and bling (they were the daughter she never got to dress! Haha!).
Cher’s opener was Cyndi Lauper and man, she was rocking, eventually jumping off stage and dancing up the aisles during “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Mom was dancing, boogeying, then struggling to do something—what I had no idea—until I saw the queens behind and on her side, lift her up to stand on her seat, holding her in place, where she started wildly waving and screaming, “Cyndi, over here! Over here!” We all doubled over, laughing with glee, and had the best time watching my 50-plus-year-old Mom acting like a starstruck teenager. I don’t even think Cher got that reaction when she finally took the stage!
On the ride home, Mom talked a mile-a-minute (it was a two-hour drive) about the concert, that Cyndi was the best, how Cher had a ‘hot bod’ at her age, and how much fun she had. She rambled about everything and nothing, reminding me of a kid hopped up on sugar after a night at the carnival. Talk about a fun night ‘cuz, as Mom sang, ‘girls just wanna have fun!’
“Did you know I’m famous?”
Another great memory was during one of the kids’ photo camps. She was my helper and that particular day, a friend with the Osage Nation came to take photos. My friend shared this with me and I can just see Mom doing this…
“So your Mom told me a story as we went outside. She looked over at me and said, ‘Did you know I’m famous?’
I said, ‘No, you are?!’
Mom said, ‘Yep, I’m Destiny’s Mamaw! See, Sherry’s got this dog, Destiny, and she’s famous. And one day I went to get pizza down home in Arkansas and when I walked in Pizza Hut, the girl said, oh, my gosh, you’re Destiny’s Mamaw! And then we went to Food Pyramid and someone recognized me in the parking lot. And in Hobby Lobby! Now people know me as Destiny’s Mamaw! It’s awesome!’”
I totally can see Mom having this conversation. She was a pretty private person about most things, but absolutely embraced her newfound fame as ‘Destiny’s Mamaw.’
Then there was the trip to Minnesota to get little Zoey. See, Mom had come up to visit and went to Tulsa Animal Welfare with me to help with the photo shoot. The very last dog of the day was this little black Brussels Griffon. I knew Mom liked her as she spent all this time picking out exactly the ‘right’ bow for the dog to wear. I asked her after we finished if she wanted to adopt the dog. She said, “No, I have Buddy.”
Fast forward to Monday and I get a phone call. “Honey, do you think that little dog is still there?” I told her I didn’t know, but would find out. I called TAW, talked to Jean, and heard the hesitation in her voice. My heart sank as I just knew she was going to say she’d been adopted. Instead, Jean said, “She just left for transport to a rescue in Minnesota!” Of course she did!
I called Mom back and told her. She started strategizing: “How can we get her back? Can I fly one of you up (Mom hated flying)? What do we need to do?” I told her I’d make some phone calls and see what I could do.
A few calls to secure the adoption before the little dog ever made it to Minnesota, I called Mom back. “Well, here’s the deal, we’ll have to go get her as there’s no way to get her back here otherwise.”
Mom yelled, “Road trip!”
Remember those trips with your parents where you said, “Are we there yet?” This was the ultimate payback for all those trips, I swear. Mom was a hoot! We talked, we sang, we stopped to pee 500 times. After driving about seven hours, I thought she finally dropped off to sleep only to be scared out of my britches to her jumping up to sing (at the top of her lungs) “I’ve got the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu!” Thankfully she wasn’t crazy, it was playing on the radio. But still! Thank god I’d peed at the last gas station!
Ten hours and 640-plus miles later, we managed to get to Minnesota where Mom had already decided her name was Zoey. It was a match made in Heaven. Zoey took one look at Mom like, “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to figure it out.”
I remember thinking, “You know, if Mom had only decided to adopt her that Friday, she would have only cost $75 and we wouldn’t have spent 20 hours on the road.” But you know what? I would have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with my Mom who doesn’t know any of the other lyrics to the song other than “rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu.”
There are, of course, so many more memories I hold dear in my heart (Pokémon, anyone?), but these are just a few extra special ones I wanted to share. And now that I’ve shared them, my soul feels a little lighter. So, from my heart to yours, enjoy these moments of knowing how special my Mom really was.
Mom, I love you and I hope you’re havin’ fun.