As I navigate my way through this new life without my Mom, I am at times awash with such grief and anxiety that I struggle to put one foot in front of the other to continue my journey.
When my Mom was in the hospital, and we were unable to see her, my Dad and I would encourage each other with our many daily conversations. “Just breathe, “ I’d tell him. “Just breathe…” My Dad would often reply, “I am breathing.” “I am saying that to myself as well,” I replied.
I can be going all along just fine and then I spy a lemon donut in the bakery shelf or see a cardinal in my yard and the tears start. A message from my Mom on my answering machine that says, “Hello, this is your Mother!” The many cards that she sent me for every occasion, including thank-you notes for presents or just calling in her prescriptions. The daily Facebook photo memories of her with her beloved family. All are beautiful memories of a woman well-loved, but they are also a painful reminder that she’s no longer living.
One of my daughter’s friends came up to me in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and cheerily asked me, “How are you?!” And I burst into tears and choked out, “My Mom died.” And I had to run to the other side of the store and stick my head into a freezer cooler to dry up my tears so I could go to the check-out counter. I kept muttering to myself, “Just breathe, Pollock, just breathe…”. (I give myself pep talks out loud and refer to myself as Pollock.)
I was babysitting my grandkids recently and we were reminiscing about Gram and how much we love her. And I didn’t want to go all out crazy crying in front of them, so I said that I had to throw something in the compost bin outside. I opened their kitchen door, and I was treated to a beautiful sunset dancing through the trees, the beautiful orange hues were bouncing atop the snow. Just breathe, the sun seemed to be saying to me as it dipped closer and closer to the ground. Just breathe.
This past weekend we had an ice storm, followed by around six inches of new snow. It was a picturesque Winter Wonderland. The tree branches were coated in icy chandeliers that dangled and glistened in the morning light. Everywhere I gazed, I was treated to a frosty display of gleaming white snow. I spent two days walking and taking photos. On Sunday morning, I left the house when it was 1º outside and headed to the local state park. A family of deer greeted me curiously, the snow clinging to their noses as they had been foraging for food. I foolishly drove down a road that clearly stated No Winter Maintenance, but I never had any trouble in the past and I parked my car and go out and began meandering around. I snapped hundreds of photos of Mother Nature’s handiwork for over an hour and decided that it was time to move on. I hopped back into my SUV, put it in reverse and then forward and my front end just sunk into the snow. I was stuck. My hubby tried to pull me out, but that darn car was stubborn and would not budge. After an hour of trying, I called AAA and requested a tow, which they said would be there in about 90 minutes. I told my husband to leave.
The temperature had risen to 16º by then. I decided to keep on birding. I was frustrated at that point. I was trudging through the snow, grumbling to myself. I felt the wind push at my back and then I heard it, “Just breathe, Pammy Sue, just breathe…” my Mom whispered in my ear. I stopped dead in my tracks. I closed my eyes and did as she said, because, well, Mother usually knows best. I breathed in and then out. I opened my eyes and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling holes in a tree. I had been searching for this bird for over 20 months! He cheekily posed for photos for over an hour.
I realized that my tow truck had never arrived, so I called to see where it was at, only to be informed that it wasn’t coming, and that AAA was attempting to find someone else to help me. I had been stuck for 3 hours at that point and my patience was done.
“Breathe,” my Mom gently admonished me, “”Just breathe.”
And so, I breathed and watched White-throated Sparrows and Downy Woodpeckers perform acrobatic maneuvers through the woods. A Red-shouldered Hawk dove directly over my head. Several people on skis began ice parasailing on the frozen lake.
Another hour went by when a Good Samaritan named Jesse pulled in beside him. He was driving a big Dodge Ram pickup with a winch on it. “I can get you out!” Jesse declared and in less than 2 minutes, I was free at last.
Jubilant, I made my way home, telling my Mom on the entire drive back, “I’m breathing, Mom. I’m breathing. I know that you are with me.”
I felt her with me the next three days as I searched for an Eastern Screech Owl before work each morning, finally having success in the evening of the third day.
My heart will never be the same, my grief will never completely subside. But that gentle nudge from my Mom on that snow path has reminded me that I need to just breathe and keep moving, for myself and my loved ones that are still here on Earth with me.