If you have read the posts on my blog, you know that I am the “Divorce Buster” and that my posts are primarily about marriage. Today, I will take out time from my marital musings to write about a personal experience so profound, that it has nearly stopped me dead in my tracks.
Five weeks ago, I received a phone call from a policeman that I will never forget for as long as I live. He matter-of-factly told me that my 84-year-old mother had been involved in a car accident. There had been a light dusting of snow that morning and although the roads were clear, my mother hit black ice as she drove on an overpass. Her car swerved out of control, hit a guard rail which then punctured the car and pinned her until she was later cut out and flown by helicopter to a city hospital. Frozen with fear, I demanded to know about her condition and he replied, “I don’t know.” Without any words of consolation, he informed me of the name of the hospital where she would be taken. My daughter and I raced to the hospital only to discover that my mother had already died.
I knew my mother would die some day…everyone does, but I never even mildly entertained the possibility that her life would end in this sudden, tragic way. My mother was a courageous, resilient fighter. She was a Holocaust survivor who found meaning in life by helping others in her capacity as a therapist. For many years, she was Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ right-hand person in Europe. Besides assisting people with grief, she taught them about forgiveness and self-acceptance. Although a German Jew whose life was forever altered by the Nazi regime, my mother often helped guilt-ridden Germans who, although not personally responsible for war atrocities, were nonetheless crippled with emotional pain. She taught these Germans about self-love and forgiveness, an endeavor not completely understood by some relatives who harbored deep anger and resentment over their substantial losses in life. But my mother was a lover of life and of people. She understood as no others about the importance of letting go and being in the present moment. She loved unconditionally and spread her philosophy in the workshops she offered throughout the world and with people she met everywhere- at the post office, airport, grocery store or while sitting in a waiting room in a doctor’s office. In a sense, she was a Johnny Appleseed of love.
The holocaust wasn’t the only challenge in my mother’s life. She survived two rounds of colon cancer and more recently, breast cancer. Prior to her death, she was totally in remission and triumphant because of it.
So, the fact that I was sitting in a hospital room with my daughter being told that some freak accident took my mother’s life was more than I could fathom. I was so very close to my mom- my mentor and best friend- I wasn’t sure I could take my next breath.
It’s about six weeks post-accident now and I’m still breathing. I’m trying hard to focus on our great memories, the joy, unconditional love and support that she brought to my life. But the truth is, the pain tends to cloud my vision. Pain also robs me of the comfort of uninterrupted sleep. Solitary time in the wee hours of morning while the rest of the world sleeps has given me time to think and I want to share some of my reflections with you.
No one gets out of here alive
I always thought that accidents or horrendous events are things that happen to other people, that my life and my loved ones lives are immune to tragedies such as this. How naive. Random tragic acts happen all the time. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they should serve as a reminder to:
Live each day fully. Don’t put off until tomorrow to do or say the things that are really important to you. Tomorrow may never come. Don’t feel anxious about the frailty of life, embrace it. It can be a gift.
Although you can’t do anything about mistakes in the past, you can live your life today in such a way that tomorrow will make you proud and give you serenity.
Don’t have emotional cut offs in your life. Put aside meaningless pettiness with the people you love. A couple of family members allowed their differences with my mother to keep them distant for long periods of time despite her efforts to reconcile. Today, their regret is profound. Don’t make the same mistake in your life. Even if you feel that you’ve been wronged, forgive. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Holding a grudge takes an enormous emotional, spiritual and psychological toll. Letting go, on the other hand, frees you from the shackles of the past.
Talk about death
Because of my mother’s work with Kubler Ross and her own propensity for talking about tough subjects, I know my mother’s thoughts about death. I know that she helped many, many families whose loved ones were dying. She encouraged them to talk about their feelings about life and death. She coached people to give their loved ones the encouragement or support they needed to let go when the time was right. She helped them say goodbye. My mother was a mid-wife of sorts, guiding people through life’s final transition. Thankfully, I knew she had no fear of death. Her only wish was to go quickly. And that she did.
If you or someone you love has failing health, make sure you don’t allow your sadness, fear about death or discomfort talking about hard subjects to stand in the way of your having important conversations with them. Have the courage to lead the way. Often, people who are dying really want to talk about their feelings and can’t because everyone around them fears the conversation. Don’t be afraid. Connect. I would do anything to have one more chance to say goodbye to my mother. Maybe you still have that chance. Don’t waste it.
The importance of letting go
My mother’s final lesson to me is, without question, the most difficult. It’s about letting go. It seemed that in her own life, no matter what challenge she encountered, she found a way to accept and embrace it, to learn from it and to let go. My mother had developed great skill in doing what Buddhists refer to as “living in the now.” At this point in my grieving, it’s hard to imagine that I will ever be able to follow her lead and find a way to accept what is and be at peace with my loss. But it’s as if my mother’s voice has stayed with me. Just when I think that despair has kidnapped my life, I hear my mother’s admonishments and reminders. She would not want me to suffer. She would want me to love life, myself and others. She would want me to embrace what is, move forward with life and catch glimpses of her essence in nature- the mountains that are out my window, the flowers in the spring, the golden aspens of Fall and the blooming African violet plants that she left behind. She would want me to let go of the pain and see the beauty around me, cherish the joy we shared and the love I was blessed to have had my whole life. But unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet. And rather than condemn myself for falling short of this expectation so soon after her death, I can hear my mother’s familiar comforting words, “Michele, trust the process.” And so I will.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.