Sometimes by doing nothing, we can be everything.
The other day I startled when I heard a clanking sound at the kitchen sink. As I turned my head, I saw no one. But as I softened my gaze, a familiar sight came into view; my mom washing the dishes in her neat pink button-down shirt and crisp white pants.
For the past couple of years, after my mom’s terminal diagnosis, I traveled frequently from my home in Tampa to my mom’s house in New Jersey. I was acutely aware of how limited our time together was and wanted to be with her as much as possible. Sometimes my children and husband joined me and other times I traveled solo. With every visit, she got progressively weaker, her world, smaller and smaller. However, as friends and family came by to visit, bringing food and comfort, she continued to fill up the quiet space with her infectious smile and radiant warmth.
Late last summer on a beautiful full moon during the middle of the night, my mom took her last breath. It was a heartbreaking blessing but one I am so thankful I was there for. Now, I miss her every day but also marvel at how often I feel her beside me.
Sometimes I pretend she's still here, in my bedroom, scratching my back or sweeping the side of my arm, as if she is brushing away the incessant worry and sadness. As she lulls me back to sleep, I think to myself that it is okay to play pretend every now and then.
But when the first breath of morning awakens the trees with a gentle breeze, my heart swells, my stirring mind softens, and I feel anchored to my heart. I am home, my mom is still here, and I am not playing pretend. It feels as real as the waking sun peeking through my windows.
What I feel in every fiber of my being is this: When the people we love die, our relationships survive. Our loved ones continue to show up, inspiring, encouraging, and supporting us along the way. But as my wise friend and retired hospice nurse, Tricia, pointed out recently over a margarita, we must nourish this connection in order to keep the relationship alive in the present. We cannot only rely on memories.
When I picture my mom now, she is still smiling her beaming smile and waving her hands as if she is telling me to keep moving and taking steps to realize my dreams, no matter how seemingly small or bold. So often life is not bold, big or spectacular. It is mellow and mundane. And it is in these small moments - like when my two-year-old daughter authoritatively, says, "Sit down Mommy” or when my eight-year-old daughter, who we lovingly refer to as "the Roach", quietly needles her way into the smallest crevice on the couch - that we are invited to do nothing but be aware of sacred life unfolding before our eyes.
Sometimes by doing nothing, we can be everything. It is an invitation to be fully present, lovingly, colorfully, and wholly present. Maybe then we embed indelible marks in our children like dusty trails of stardust visible in the night sky only after a quiet rush from a falling star. We create in them a felt sense to embody when we are no longer here. And in the process we ensure that our relationship will survive death simply because they will always remember the way we made them feel. The love we share isn’t somewhere it is everywhere.
In effort to keep the relationship I have with my mom alive, I will continue to talk to her when I walk by a fragrant gardenia or when I need her guidance as I mother my own children. I will pause and give thanks for the signs I receive like the hearts that keep appearing in the most random of places. I will share stories about her with my friends and family. I will hear her in the songs of the birds in my backyard and see her in my children’s eyes and grins and in my own silly nature. I will repeat her sayings, sing her songs and wear crisp white pants. I will cook chicken with wine and bake chewies. I will teach my children that there is always something to smile about and that it is our responsibility to share that smile with others. When we reach out to those we have loved and lost, we stay open to the possibility that they are, in fact, reaching back.