For over a year we had dealt with my father’s illnesses and deteriorating health. Diabetes. Glaucoma. Heart disease. Hardening of the arteries. You name it, he had it. He needed help standing and walking so either my husband or myself and, occasionally, both of us, would accompany Mom to Dad’s numerous appointments. Mom and I had always been close; spending this extra time together strengthened our bond even more. We prepared ourselves for what we felt sure was nearing the end . . .
The phone call came early on a bleak and snowy November morning. One week before Thanksgiving. I answered the phone to hear my brother’s emotional voice call out my name. Before he spoke another word, I knew what he was going to say. Dad had-
“You mean Dad?” I asked, thinking he was so shook up that he misspoke.
“No, Mom, she’s dead. I found her lying flat on her back across the bed.”
My breath caught in my throat. My heart pounded in my chest. My head spun. No words came.
“It looks like she got up to get something for Dad and then just collapsed.”
The rest of that day and those that followed were a blur of mind-numbing activity as we contacted family and friends and arranged Mom’s funeral.
I went through the motions of living. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of my family, but that’s all they were – motions. It was as if my body had become disconnected from my heart and mind.
Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. The major holidays came and went while I grieved. My husband, children, brothers, sisters and friends did what they could to alleviate my pain, but I was so blind-sided by Mom’s death that I thought for sure God had forsaken me.
Winter came. I threw myself into manual labor, anything to keep my brain from thinking and my heart from remembering. I shoveled snow, tons and tons of snow. I shoveled paths to the barn, paths to the garage, paths to the mailbox. Even though we had a plow truck, I shoveled out both ends of our semi-circular driveway.
Spring came. I began clearing the area around the cabin we had built back in the woods. Every day I was back there hacking away at brush and saplings, digging up roots, raking matted leaves, hauling downed limbs to a burn pit.
Summer came. One July morning, I was working in the garden. After weeding a long row of green beans, I rested on the hoe to take a break. The sun was warm on my shoulders and it felt good. It had been shining all morning, but I hadn’t noticed. I closed my eyes and heard a bird singing in a nearby spruce tree. I’m sure he had been singing all morning, but I hadn’t noticed. The sun and song were wonderfully comforting. At that moment my heart began to thaw.
I sat down at the picnic table with my journal. Through an open bedroom window I heard our daughters chatting and laughing. It was good to hear their joy, but it made me feel even more alone. Tears fell onto my journal page as in my heart I asked God why He had taken my mom and why He had left me feeling so bereft. In my heart I cried out for a sign. Something to assure me He was still there. That He still cared for me.
Just then a hummingbird flew up beside me. It hovered over my shoulder, its emerald green shining in the sun. I held my breath and sat perfectly still, not wanting to frighten it. It continued to hover, its wing beats buzzing the air. I tried to remember the last time I had seen a hummingbird. It was last summer, I had seen one zipping around Mom’s garden.
For whatever reason, I can’t explain the connection, but at that very moment, I realized God had not forsaken me. He was still with me. But in my grief-fueled, frenetic activity I hadn’t been still long enough to recognize the many ways He had reached out to me.
That tiny jewel of nature melted the ice around my heart. My tears continued to fall, but now they were tears of relief, gratitude and joy.
(Note: My father lived three more years after Mom’s passing)