Nights are restless. I sleep for a couple of hours and then wake and toss and turn confronted by the sad mess that has become my life. I cannot concentrate. In the shower, I forget whether I have conditioned my hair or not. If you’ve seen my hair, you know I must condition!! I cannot for the life of me remember where I put the coupon I needed for the sale at the store that ends this week. I will hold something in my hand, and think, “oh so glad I found this.” Twenty seconds later I lay it down and it is never to be found again.
I come home in the afternoon, home from the pool or running errands, lunch with friends, whatever I can find to fill my day and exhaustion overtakes me. When left alone on the sofa, I fall into a deep sleep and wake with drool on my chin hours later. I cannot organize my home, I cannot even see a load of laundry through from start to finish. I did get a facial, and a manicure; baby steps for self-care and yesterday a pedicure. That’s when it hit me. It was my first pedicure without my mom in this world.
Pedicures we usually did together, even celebrating “Merry Spa Christmas” with my nieces each year. We did it so often that the manicurist asks me how my mother is doing, and there it is, I have to speak it. “My mom passed away.” “Oh, no!” the manicurist says, as if her heart is broken a little too. “She was such a sweet lady,” she says, and it’s true. Everyone who knew her loved her, even the girl who polished her nails when she visited me in Indiana got to know her as a warm smile, a gentle embrace, a loving conversation.
I am not sobbing every hour, not even every day, though I have my moments. What I am is lost—off balance, stumbling around life bumping into things like I’m learning to walk all over again. It’s a bit like watching a baby calf hours after she is born—struggling to stand and walk around the stable on the soft hay. I am trying to learn how to stand, to survive, to find my way in this new reality, one that I have never known before in a world where she is not. She who was so good with all my firsts; protective and guarding, nervous for me but believing in my all the while.
When I was just two she signed me up for swimming lessons. Living in Tennessee, my family was on the water a lot, so much so that she wanted me to know what to do if I ever “got in over my head.” She told me the story of dropping me off at the pool and sitting in the parking lot with her mother crying her eyes out in anxiety fearing the worst for her baby girl on the other side of the wall covered from head to toe in floaties. She cried her tears, then wiped them away and picked me up, raving all the way home about how good I had swam, how brave I was and how I could do anything.
This is how I was formed. I was encouraged—always, to give that thing that seemed beyond my reach a try; steadfastly cheered on as if I were already the champion, the expert, the queen of any given thing. I cut my teeth on “you can do this,” “believe in yourself,” and her favorite, “there’s nothing you, me and God can’t handle together.” I must be honest here, I did not always appreciate or welcome her sunny disposition. I remember, in college, a particular crying fit we had together on the phone. I complained that I just wanted her to recognize how hard it all was. “You don’t understand all this pressure,” I wailed. “Too many papers to finish this weekend, too much research to compile; I can’t do it.” She was relentless, “I don’t believe that baby. Look at how far you’ve come; I’m so very proud of you.” I hung up the phone, disappointed that she wouldn’t let me quit, disgusted that she wouldn’t even admit that I was weak and what stood in front of me seemed impassible. The truth is simple; these notions did not exist for her.
So today, as I find I am, quite literally, over my head, I hear her. Her voice is strong in my spirit, cheering me on from that great cloud of witnesses, “You can do this, I know you can. This is why I gave you all those lessons, so you’d know what to do.” There was a time when I didn’t believe I could walk, but she told me I could and I did. I didn’t believe I could ride a bike, but she told me I could and I did. I didn’t believe I’d survive my first broken heart; she said I would and I’m still here. Today, she tells me to take a deep breath, rely on the love that surrounds me and believe I can fly—so I will.