When she comes to me, she usually comes at night – in that little valley between awake and asleep. I see Mom so clearly, so specifically. I can almost touch her.
There she is in the fellowship hall of her church — talking to one person, but turning to try to talk to someone else at the same time, her index finger on the tip of her nose in her classic “I’m-trying-to-remember-who-else-I-have-to-talk-to” pose.
There she is laughing at herself with delighted embarrassment — telling me the story of how she spilled her gatorade all over her lap. Or of how a customer service rep offered to call her back at a time when she wasn’t trying to simultaneously pay a bill on the phone and eat a bowl of granola.
There she is chopping apples. Stirring a tub of cool whip. Mopping the floor on her hands and knees.
And when she comes to me in that little valley between awake and asleep, I try to hold her there for as long as I can before my mind inevitably fast forwards to her dying face, her last breaths, her dead hands cooling on her stomach.
In the beginning, these moments were the times I would cry. Cry so hard until I’d have to sit up in bed in order to breathe. I miss those tears and the frequency with which she would visit me in that little valley.
The other night – Mother’s Day Eve – I was falling asleep on the couch (as I often do at 9:30pm) and I felt the gentlest touch above my left eyebrow. (I learned later that my oldest daughter had accidentally brushed against me with her arm while trying to get the television remote, but in the moment, it felt like a touch from beyond the veil.) And there she was. Her face right next to mine. Smiling and saying my name. “Heidi, Heidi.” She was trying to wake me up. But I knew if I opened my eyes, she’d be gone. And so I let myself keep falling asleep. I let her waking voice guide me there to the little hill of my evening nap.
“It was so vivid!” I told my sister the next day in a video call. “Like a Real Memory. But I can’t think when she ever would have tried to wake me up like that!”
And then I remembered. This was a Real Memory. From Sunday morning, December 10, 2000. I was asleep in a room at the hospitality house across the street from Spectrum hospital, where my husband, who had been in a car accident, was in a coma – sleeping in that valley between life and death. Would he survive or not? I’d gone to sleep the night before with a sleeping pill and advice from an ICU nurse: “Pray for a miracle and prepare yourself for the worst.” So I slept there in that prayer valley between A Miracle and The Worst.
There I was that Sunday morning, sleeping a drugged sleep. And Mom came to the side of my bed. “Heidi, Heidi.” She was touching me gently and smiling at me with so much love as I opened my eyes. “It’s only a matter of time now,” she said.
I know this is what she said, because I wrote those words in my diary.
In her diary account of the same day, Mom wrote, “At 4:30am they told me that the doctor was called. There was no oxygen getting to his brain and his eyes were fixed. Death was coming. I waited until 6:00 to tell Heidi.”
And there she was, at 6:00am – in that little valley between asleep and awake. “Heidi. Heidi. It’s only a matter of time now.”
Together we held him for as long as we could in that valley between life and death until he died the next night.
Today, May 20, is Mom’s birthday. She would have turned 72. I love my life and part of me never wants to die. But part of me cherishes the silver lining – knowing that with each passing year I am just that much closer to seeing my mom again. I am in that valley of unknown-length between seeing her dead face and seeing her living face. It’s only a matter of time.
Sometimes, when people are dying, they call out for their mom. George Floyd did. My mom did. Perhaps I will.
And sometimes I wonder if God, in God’s infinite graciousness, might not assign our mothers (who have gone before us) the holy task of gently waking us up on the other side. Their faces close to ours. Her face close to mine. Smiling. “Heidi. Heidi. Wake up.”
It’s only a matter of time.
*Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.