By Jen Hilzinger
My mom died suddenly a month and a half before I turned 31. She was 58. Glen and I had been married for 8 years and both of our older kids were home with us. She lived in Florida during the winter, but we had just spent a couple of weeks together over the holidays. Of course we were busy with the dealings of the holiday, she was busy traveling to all the relatives homes, trying to see everyone and catch up on all that she had missed since the last time she was here, and I was blissfully in the throws of being a mom of two busy little ones.
My mom always stayed to help, and by helping it usually meant holding baby E and now big sister M, reading books, daydreaming with me over coffee about what kind of people they were going to be. She loved bathing them and getting jammies on. She loved babies, especially at bath time. Johnson's Baby Wash was her favorite. I made sure to use it too. She loved teaching me all of the tricks and skills of caring for a baby and toddler. I loved listening to her. Of course I did not know that was the last time I would see her alive. I would have asked her more about letting teens make their own mistakes and always loving them though it all. And living with depression. She was expert at each.
I've been back through the photos of that holiday; I didn't get ONE good picture of her with the kids together. I can't believe I missed that. It was our first Christmas with son E home from Korea, and his birthday is December 25th. He turned one that year. My mom would be gone on February 12th without so much as a goodbye.
I now make a point to aim the camera at the adults in the room too, every once in a while. It was a hard way to learn that lesson. I learned a few other brutal lessons through losing her the way I did.
I remember the first day I was alone in our house after she died. All of the commotion of planning the funeral and burial were done, all the thank you notes had been written, although initially I was not sure what to thank people for. My pen hesitated on the first few notes, even toying with the idea of skipping this part. Perhaps that is why food is a part of funerals, you can thank people and feel grateful for at least the time and effort it took to bring food. It felt strange thanking people for coming to the funeral...
although I did, as that as is the way you greet people. But really I wish they didn't have to add this to their day. I wished they could just go home and eat dinner after work, not fish around for last minute baby sitters for the kids, rummage around for something black (or dark blue, dark blue is OK right?) to wear. I wished I wasn't there and certainly wished my mom was alive.
After all of the planning, procedure and social graces of burying a mom (MY mom) were done, the kids back on somewhat routines, baby son E was napping (in small doses), daughter M back in preschool, I looked forward to being alone.
That first day back to 'normal' I just happened to look out the window when the mailman came to deliver a package for Glen for work. I opened the door before he rang the bell and already the tears were halfway down my checks. I instantly felt this stab of pain for everyone that did not know her and all she wasn't going to be able to see or do. I had big plans for her! The fierceness of that realization surprised me.
If a living body gives off energy and other human bodies receive that energy, it makes sense to me that there is a certain level of that energy that remains within the receiver and I believe that energy is located in the middle of the throat. It stays there.
"I'm sorry you didn't meet her. You would have loved her." I said to the friendly mailman just doing his regular route, trying to smile, hoping these pale words would comfort him even a little. I didn't want the realization of her loss to break him—he had to finish his route. After all he was missing out on his life would not be the same as it would have been, even if he had just met her for a brief moment. Her kindness was palpable; her ability to see people without judgment was healing in a sometimes broken world, and her willingness to do for others at times, pathological. The butterfly effect had made its brutal impact on this mailman, and so many thousands, maybe millions of others.
Mom often stayed with us for a few days, and she did on that last trip too, although the details of that stay forgotten the minute it was over. She often stayed with us long enough for her to get into the routine of our lives, which several times a week involved receiving packages for Glen's work. It is just faster for him to get them at home vs. being routed through the mailroom, since he was traveling so much, the package could sit on his desk until he needed it. Mom would have met the mailman eventually. Perhaps she already did.
"It's OK." He said, clearly confused about my awkward comment and my tears. He didn't do a great job of convincing me that it was going to be.
© 2010 Jen Hilzinger. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Jen Hilzinger has served on numerous adoption, Korean American and Asian American philanthropic and educational organizations including the Council of Asian Pacific Americans and Sae Jong Society of Metro Detroit. Jen co-founded Families with Children from China - Metro Detroit in 1996 after she adopted her daughter from China and served on the Families for Children Board, a 30+ year old support group for adoptees from Korea and their families as well as KACE: Korean American Cultural Exchange.