April 29, 2016.
The date on the calendar was blank except for the small printed words to the side: “T & D – Taking care of business”
I picked up my mom and took her out for breakfast, a long-awaited trip to Cracker Barrel. The morning was gloomy and my heart was sad, knowing my brother-in-law’s nephew was being laid to rest just a few hours later. There was a tragic accident the weekend before, an accident that shocked our small community, and the aftermath was, and is, too raw to put into words. While I wanted to be there to support my brother-in-law and his family, I knew it was right to keep my promise with my mom.
Today was an important day.
I arrived at my mom’s house, her breathing heavy and labored, but she was ready to get the day started. The dreary weather matched my mood as the drizzling rain made our hair frizz around our faces.
My hair. My face. My mom lost her hair weeks ago.
We sat at the table and opened our menus, the elephant in the room peering over our shoulders as we placed our orders. Eggs over easy with a side of bacon. Sourdough bread, toasted.
The banter between us was light, the usual chit-chat you might find between a mother and daughter, talk of work and weather and kids. We both knew why we were having breakfast today, and how the day would unfold, but it wasn’t until the coffee arrived that we finally invited that elephant in the room to sit down and join our conversation.
Today was the day we planned my mother’s funeral.
We jokingly called it our “Girl’s Day Out,” knowing of course that it broke all the rules of conventionality. I asked her questions – lots of questions – and made notes on my iPad as we talked about details, decisions, and death.
We talked about services. We talked about songs. We spent a long time discussing hospice. We lamented about the exorbitant cost of funerals, then pondered the necessity for so many rituals. We discovered a need for an updated will.
We were making plans, much like a mother and daughter planning a wedding, but roles were now reversed. I was the mother. She was my child. I wanted to make sure her wishes were granted.
In the midst of our breakfast with the dishes cleared and coffee refilled we talked about flowers and photos. “I don’t need much,” she said, “Let’s keep it simple.”
We found a photo frame to memorialize her husky, Ivan, who suddenly passed away the week before after 10 years in her care. The circle of life never stops, whether pet or parent or child. It’s important to remember those things that bring us joy.
As we window shopped for this and that, we found humor in silly things. The baby boy frog shoes we would have bought in an instant, if my baby boy wasn’t almost seven. The sparkled shoes, the overpriced scarves, even the pajamas with sailboats gave us a giggle. She glanced at the chocolate bars by the register and I had her choose her favorite to add to the pile. “Never say no to chocolate,” I reminded, “You only live once.”
We took selfies at storefronts and shared stories from our past. We chose objects that would have special meaning once she is gone.
Were tears shed today as we planned for the future that would not include her vibrance? Of course. But today was a day filled with making memories and the laughter overcame the sorrow.
Whether you are healthy or sick, feeble or strong, I encourage you to take time for your loved ones. Open the door to those difficult conversations. Make plans for today and tomorrow, even if you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Allow yourself to be happy. Find joy in the mundane. Remind someone that they are loved and show them with actions and words. Take pictures and be silly, even if you know people are staring at you like you’re a fool.
Be you. Be free. Make memories. These are the days you will always remember, and the laughter will rise like the sun, warming your heart for years to come.