The fourth year of my life is usually where I start in the telling of my life's story for two reasons: it is when I start having my own memories and it's when one of the most critical plots in my story happens.
I turned three in the September of 1985. My birthday cake was in the shape of a Cabbage Patch Kid, which is a fact that I don't remember but I know because there are pictures. The first thing that I really remember from that year was touching my mom's hand as she lay in her casket. My Aunt Mary walked me up to see her and she lifted me up and told me to reach down and touch her hand saying, "feel how cold it is." She wanted me to touch her so that the reality of the situation would register with me, because she feared I would be too little to understand.
The very idea of the whole thing is absolutely tragic, when I think of it today. The woman was 37 years-old with a husband and four young kids and she just died one day. A week before Christmas, none the less. I'm told it was a pulmonary embolism that did it, so it was silent and unexpected. I imagine that her body looked almost perfect in that casket, although I don't remember anything but her cold hands.
I don't remember the event-- aside from that one moment at the funeral-- and I don't remember her-- aside from the one random, late-night popcorn story-- but it changed our family and it definitely changed me, although there is no measurement for how much.
It has always been curious for me to think about people really having a mom because Mom, for me, was always more like a celebrity than an actual family member. She was someone I had always heard about and who lived in pictures but not in real life, and I would not actually ever meet her (although sometimes I would fantasize about it).
Growing up I had a hard time feeling like it was a big deal to not have a mom because that was all I ever really knew (or at least remembered), but a few years ago I went to a counselor for the first time and she had me talk about it a lot. She gave me some insight on what it must have been like for a three year-old to lose her mom, and she used the word abandoned. I thought that was silly and I argued, rather logically, that she did not abandon me, she died. It wasn't like she was trying to go anywhere. But my counselor suggested that, in the eyes of a small child knowing only that someone she trusted and relied on was here one day and then gone the next, it was the same as abandonment. Death was my betrayer. And that was probably a key as to why I still struggle with the fear of losing every close relationship that I have.
I wouldn't blame somebody for being mad at God for doing something like that-- for taking their mom-- but honestly I cannot help but believe that God had bigger and better plans for her and for us. I never recall thinking that God was anything but perfectly good and right and true, even in light of this. All I remember is having a strong, loving father who was a safe refuge for me. Maybe that was all I ever needed to trust my heavenly Father. Maybe that was my severe mercy.