Today is May 25th. Every year for as long as she lived, my mom marked this date on the calendar as her death date.
Nothing, not anyone, intercepted her schedule and agenda, her oxygen sources. A total control freak, it was as if she grasped a snow globe world in her hands. Whenever she shook it, a blizzard erupted. Additionally, her ultimate weapons of control were superstition and religion.
In Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s short story, So What’s Your Name, Sandra? when the author describes Mama Sandra’s sense of control, he conjures up my mother’s exact image. He writes, “Suddenly she gasped—the realization hitting her that she’d forgotten to pray before her plane had taken off. If they had exploded in mid-air, thought Mama Sandra in horror, if hundreds of someones’ someones had died that day, it would have been all her fault.”
My mom created a cause-and-effect world and whether something good or bad happened, there was always a hard and fast reason. Some of her legacy she passed on to me. Long after my mom’s death, I still avoid stepping on a sidewalk’s cracks .…“Step on the crack, break your mother’s back” .… What daughter in her right mind would willingly do that to her mom, alive or dead?
Most of my mom’s control issues stemmed from being a World War II survivor. She placed her full faith into a built-in life script. Editing it was an impossible task.
One of my mom’s many idiosyncrasies was her desire to die in the month of May. May 25th to be exact. She longed to share the death date with her father, my grandfather. Though he had died long before I was born, my mom insisted that God loved him so much that apparently when he died, he was gifted with the nicest, sunniest day of the year. The sky was as clear as a wavelength of light from a prism, and you could see for miles without having to squint. My mom also said that my grandfather was a well-loved man in the community and hundreds of people attended his funeral and celebrated his life. That said, in her eyes, a May 25th death was not sad or solemn but happy. Plus, perhaps it was also part of the Byelorussian culture she was raised in, but my mom prayed for her specific death date as if she were praying for a future, festive wedding celebration. Year after year, she kneeled in front of her Jesus and Mother Mary statues in her bedroom and, along with her death date prayer request, she also prayed for a peaceful death in her own bed at home. At the very least, if the 25th was inconvenient, she implored God, to grant her a springtime death date.
I had faith that if there existed a compassionate God, he would grant my mother’s wish. Of course, God, my Christian friends remind me, is NOT a magical genie.
When the day arrived, a little more than two months after she celebrated her 90th birthday, instead of May 25th or during springtime, my mother died on December 29th in 2015 on a dark frigid winter’s day. My daughter and I were in another state, about two hours away, when we heard the news and could not immediately return home, because we were trapped in an ice storm. Additionally, my mom did not die, per her request, at home and in her bed. My mom died in a nursing facility, because she had suffered a stroke and required medical support. So, all her years of prayers amounted to nothing.
There’s a silver lining to this story though. First, my mother actually did die as she wanted, peacefully. Second, shortly before she died, I asked her, while she laid in the hospital bed, where she thought she was.
“Home,” she replied.
After her response, I remember that all that came to me was how God was just. If my mom realized the raw reality of the situation and that she would not die in her bed at home as she had always prayed, she would have been devastated. Obviously, too, she was not aware of the season at the time, so that fact also seemed just, but here’s the clincher. The first spring after her death, I found beautiful photos of my mom shot about a year prior on our back deck. There was no special occasion, but our dear family friend, Anne, was visiting from New Mexico, and we held an impromptu gathering. Although my daughter was away working as a camp counselor in upstate New York, my son attended and other family members and close friends. At the gathering, laughter filled the air, and it was the kind of gathering where you might forget eating and drinking altogether because of the abundance of delicious conversation. The sun was aglow, cupped inside a cloudless sky. You could see for miles without a telescope. Out of a lifetime of gatherings, it hit the top ten list.
Anyway, as I examined the pictures, I spotted the date: MAY 25th. In retrospect, I realize IT WAS the last time my mom was alive, at least in the way we knew her. It was the last time she was one hundred percent lucid and pain-free and, in fact, resonated with youth and life. After that day, she took a turn and, in almost every sense of the word, she died. In my mind, I always reflect on that date as symbolizing her last good day on earth until she gave into her symbolized death that night of May 25th. In addition, I see that wondrous May 25th day as the best “Goodbye Party” I’ve ever attended. I couldn’t have prayed for a better outcome.
I, of all people, know that as much as we would like to think we are in control of our destinies, we are utterly powerless. It’s a consequence of being human. But I also know that when things whirl out of control, I need to place my two feet into a composite of faith, trust, hope. At the moment, however, as I carry my griefcase, I only have quicksand to trudge in. Interestingly, I read that you can only sink as far as your waist into quicksand unless you dive head first or face first. Given this information, I keep my faith and allow myself to sink without drowning. Head up, I can’t miss the spring air, and I soak up the warmth and, without orchestrating a thing, allow the process of the natural healing powers to amaze me, especially in the darkest of days that feel like they are buried in a non-breathable acrylic shroud.