Updated: Feb 8, 2021
On a blustery, freezing, rainy day in February 2011, I buried my mother with my bare hands. Well, that was not the original plan, but that is how it went down. About a week or so before, I was headed back to New York on a jetBlue flight to visit my mom, who was not doing so well post-surgery. I was blessed to sit next to a flight attendant dead-heading back to JFK who talked to me and calmed me down for the entire flight. I had been speaking with her nurses all day and asked them to tell her I was on my way from San Diego and to wait for me. They did exactly that-and she did wait.
My dear friend Shannon urged me to take a cab straight from the airport to the hospital, which is precisely what I did. I ran up to her room but she had already lost the ability to speak or even move her mouth at all. Instead, she smiled at me one last time with her twinkly blue eyes. It was one of the most incredible human interactions I have ever experienced. I told her I loved her and it was ok to let go. She closed her eyes and never opened them again.
I stayed at the hospital holding her hand for the next week until she eventually passed away. For as long as I could remember, she always said she did not want a wake or funeral. She wanted to be cremated and would always say “dig a hole next to daddy and dump me in next to him”. My siblings and I laughed for years about it. She always said the same thing when it came up.
I borrowed a dress and umbrella for the burial day and as I was running out the door, I realized I had nothing to dig a hole with, so I ran back and grabbed a tablespoon. At go time, the spoon bent in half from the powerful roots at the cemetery. By this time, we were dealing with frigid diagonal rain, so I went down on my hands and knees like a dog and dug the hole while my siblings attempted to shield me from the rain. We finished up as best we could and went to brunch to unwind.
That evening, as I sat exhausted at the jetBlue gate curled in a ball, I looked down at my hands. Although I had washed them thoroughly several times, the dirt from the big dig was still there as a reminder of what had transpired that day. When I looked up, that same flight attendant was standing there asking me how things went. What a God Wink!
One of the family traditions I share with my children is clapping each time we land safely. I always feel so connected to my mom and my own childhood each time we clap. Sometimes other flyers join in, but more often than not, it is just us....keeping her sassy spirit alive. Hands for praying. Hands for holding. Hands for digging. Hands for clapping.
“You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”
~Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stanford University, 2005