How befitting that Facebook would remind me today - on Thanksgiving - of this post I wrote exactly a year ago when I was in Germany dealing with the aftermath of my mom's untimely and sudden death. Everything I wrote then still holds true today. And despite these troubling times of loss, election woes and a world that's filled with pain and suffering, there is still much to be grateful for and it comes from the bottom of my heart when I say: thank you for your continued loyalty, dear readers and friends, and I wish those of you who are celebrating, a peaceful and relaxing Thanksgiving!
GRATITUDE IN TIMES OF MOURNING
November 24, 2015
The internet - that would be mostly Facebook and blogland for me - is buzzing with posts about the merits and benefits of expressing one's gratitude. Some people keep gratitude journals, others pray or simply say thank you on a regular basis.
It is kind of hard for me to put into words but there are certain concepts or trends out there - all in the name of personal growth, happiness and fulfillment - that I have a hard time relating to. Saying carpe diem - seize the day, be grateful for what you have right now - in the face of tragedy and loss doesn't do anything for me, I'm afraid. Whenever something terrible happens in the world all it does is increase the anxiety that I already feel about life's fragility and counting my own blessings has never done anything to make me feel better about it. I do feel grateful for a lot of things in my life but I've never quite felt it on the level that is 'recommended'.
My mom's death is changing this. I've been feeling tons of gratitude these last two weeks. Gratitude is what's keeping me sane throughout all of this.
First of all, I am immensely grateful that she didn't have to suffer long. My mother has always been a very active and independent person, even her hip and back problems did not keep her from bicycling and walking everywhere and doing all the things she had going on in her life: her engagement with the local church group, organizing flea markets, working part-time at an architect's office, playing cards every week, her photography group, her interest in the arts and, of course, spending time with her grandchildren. She was a pretty busy lady and the thought of losing her independence to prolonged illness or disability was unacceptable to her. So going as quickly and unexpectedly as she did was a blessing in disguise.
She was also a complex woman who, in her last two decades, had finally found some peace from her own demons. She was born during WWII and the traumatic experiences from that time would follow her for the rest of her life. Nervous breakdowns and anxieties were deeply embedded into her path but once she reached her 60s things began to calm down for her and she found a sense of balance and inner peace that only increased over time. She was in a good emotional place when she passed away and for that I feel a lot of gratitude, too.
I never planned to spend most of my adult life abroad and away from my family, it just kind of happened that way. And I often wondered whether I should have stayed in Germany to be there for and with my family, especially my mother. But looking back over the last twenty five years a different picture emerges and what I see now is how my living in all these different countries has actually enriched my mom's life. My mother's roots were firmly planted in her hometown of Cologne and her family and friends here. Before moving into her current apartment she had lived in the same flat for nearly 40 years. She was a steady kind of girl. But. She also had a great sense of adventure and she loved traveling and experiencing other countries and cultures. Money was always tight and there was never enough for fancy vacations and such. But having your daughter live in places such as London, New England and the Pacific Northwest? Now we're talking! In England she visited me at least two or three times a year and once I met my American husband and moved to the States she would come over there for 4-8 weeks at a time and we even did a cross-country road trip together in the little red beetle. Whenever I moved homes (a lot!) she would be there to help with the packing, unpacking and doing car boot sales - she always used to say that she loved moving. But really, she loved nurturing and helping us with all of this was her way of loving us.
The last ten to fifteen years were all about giving back. My mom had raised three kids single-handedly and through tough economic and personal times. Giving her all these adventures was my way of thanking and loving her. And I will always be grateful to my husband, too, because he loved my mom and could not do enough for her and his generosity enabled many of her trips. He, for instance, sent her First Class to San Francisco for my cousin's wedding and when she turned 70 in 2010 he flew her over from Germany to Bellingham, when I lived there the first time round, and not just that - he also flew over my sister as the big surprise present! My mom and my sister were very close and my mother had no idea that her other daughter would be there as well. I will never ever forget this moment, after I picked up my sister at the airport and brought her back to the hotel where I worked at the time and where my mother was waiting for me to return from an errand. We were standing in the lobby and I asked my mom to close her eyes and open her hands because I had a surprise birthday present for her. It was the day before her actual birthday and she kept saying "No, no, it's not my birthday yet, I don't want any early presents!" But she finally conceded and closed her eyes and stretched out her hands. I put my sisters hands into hers and asked my mom to open her eyes. OMG. We were a little worried about her heart getting too excited, but she was fine and the look in her eyes when she realized that my sister was standing in front of her was priceless. She was so happy. One of the best moments of my life.
My gratitude for all of these wonderful adventures with my mom, as well as all the cozy and ordinary moments spent together, is immense. I am grateful for the privilege of these experiences with her but even more so - grateful to have enriched her life with them. She never had a lot of money but she left this earth a rich woman.