A year ago today, my phone rang. I knew what the news would be before I answered and in those few seconds before I pressed the button, I thought: “No. Not yet. I’m not ready. I’m on my way. Please, not yet.” In those almost-five months after my mother’s diagnosis, we’d waited every day for this very thing to happen, but when my dad said the words, “your mother just passed away,” I still wasn’t ready. My bags were already packed, and I was already on my way out the door to school that Saturday morning to ensure that I had planned and prepped everything that the substitute would need. When I hung up the phone, I swallowed a sob and calmly called my brother and sister. I kissed my son and drove to the quiet, dark halls of Bloomington High School North where I finished writing up lesson plans, making copies of things and sending out emails. I did it all calmly. Quietly. Numbly.
What I wanted to do was kick a hole in the wall. I wanted to scream. I wanted to lie down somewhere and not get up for a week, maybe two. I was heartbroken that I hadn’t made it to her in time. I was mad at my dad for waiting so long to call. I was angry with myself for not having gone when I got that little twinge of whatever-we-call-it that told me the time was near. I was pissed at my mom for getting cancer in the first place and for not recognizing the signs sooner. I was irate at the miracle cancer drug that had put so many stage four cancer patients in remission or bought them more time, but hadn’t been a match for my mom. I was furious at the universe and at God and at whatever else because I wasn’t ready. My mom and I, we’d just begun in so many ways. My son had only spent a short two years with her. We weren’t done. It wasn’t time. But she was gone.
But here’s the thing about love stories, the end is never really the end. So many great love stories end in death, and we’ve been taught to mourn love’s end. It’s tragic. It’s hopeless. It’s final. I suppose the thing that Christianity gets right is that love doesn’t have a “best if used by” date; it doesn’t expire. Let’s not quibble about theology; whether we take Christ’s resurrection literally or metaphorically (or not at all) isn’t the point here. The point is that love is transferred and transmuted over and again until it becomes impossible to find all the places where it begins and ends. However imperfect we are in our loving, love somehow still persists.
Most days I’m still not ready. My mom and I, we aren’t done. For now, I’m still caught up in the loop of loving which she drew me into and into which I’ve drawn my son. But I’m also caught up in those circles of love that we, you and I, have drawn together—the ones you’ve offered up to me and the ones I’ve extended in return. Holy Venn diagrams, people, that’s a lot of love. This is my love story, and it isn’t finished yet.