There it was. Lying on the floor, tossed aside by my son, Logan, who discovered it in a drawer while rummaging for art paper.
The red spiral notebook that I’d swiped from my parent’s house just days after my mom died was at my feet. Seven years ago, still aching from the loss of my mom and an unborn baby, I had tucked it in a drawer. For later.
Opening the notebook, I vaguely remember that I hadn’t been able to read her handwriting. Was it because I didn’t want to see what she had written? Or had I been just too overwhelmed to try? Mom’s handwriting had never been hard to read.
There. That familiar handwriting that had written thank you notes to me for everything. And after I’d moved to Texas, I received countless letters filled with idle chatter from my mom, keeping herself occupied.
I recognize the writing. But something really was amiss. I can’t understand a word. I flip page after page, faster and faster. Scanning for anything that would stand out to me. Nothing.
Well, almost nothing.
Amid pages completely filled with scrawled words, some written diagonally over horizontal lines, I make out a few phrases that pop up over and over. And over.
Dear Jesus. Please forgive me. I promise to try hard.
What?!! Was this MY mom? My godly, Christian mother who had prayed, travailed, hours in her room and lived her entire life getting ready for the day she’d meet Jesus? For what did my mom need forgiveness?
I scour each page. Frantic, because I want something that I can hold onto. Something that will make me smile and recall fond memories. Just a peek into the heart of my gentle mother; the mother I had been too busy to really get to know. After all, she was only 60 when she died. I thought I had plenty of time left to ask the questions that needed answered.
Help. Please have mercy . . . . Thank you. Some pages are dated months before mom died. Long before stomach cancer took her life a mere seven weeks after that dreaded word exploded like a cannon and destroyed life as we knew it.
Need hearing aid. Finally, something that sounded like mom. So I keep poring over every word, deciphering what I can and discarding the remainder.
You don’t understand. I can’t think like a normal person. You know I don’t want to be . . . or to die and go when I don’t want to go. I need you to heal . . . In between the words I can barely decipher are scratchy loops and marks that mean nothing to me. I cannot find one page that is entirely legible.
Weeping, I keep looking. Hoping I’ll find something that will tell me the source of her pain. What was she afraid of? Why did she feel she needed forgiveness? Please, Mom. Something. Anything. What was going on with you?
Memories fall around me. Sobbing, I decide this must have begun after she sat, day after day, with her brother as he was dying of cancer. Was that first time she panicked? Or, did the fire in their apartment fuel this despair? She and my nephew had gone for an afternoon walk and arrived at the apartment to find fire engines. A delight for a two-year-old and terrible for my parents, who were immediately whisked to a hotel room and lost access to everything they owned for months during the clean up.
Perhaps it began before that, after yet another hardship? Was it when they couldn’t buy their dream home and were forced to move? For what was probably close to the 50th time.
When, Mom? When? When did life throw so many curveballs that you finally became fearful of everything? When did life no longer feel safe for you? When even God couldn’t be seen as the firm foundation in your sinking sand?
Tears pour down my cheeks and drip to my neck. I wipe them away and wish I had seen this notebook while my mom was still alive. It was a peek into her heart. A heart too weary to see light. Her insecurity was scrawled here on these pages. She didn’t feel she was good enough for God. Surely He couldn’t love her, or so she thought.
I slam the book closed and hit the cover with my fist. How could my precious mother have never experienced the blessed peace I feel from knowing God loves me unconditionally? Why did security in God remain so elusive to her? Who stole the trust?
I want to blame the hellfire and brimstone sermons that were pounded out every Sunday. Fear Hell. Work to please God. You aren’t good enough. I silently curse her mother, my grandmother, for the damage she hurled with her abusive meanness.
Grasping the notebook in both arms, close to my heart, I wonder when I got too busy to sit down next to her, hold her hand, and talk. I took her to doctor’s appointments. I bought groceries. I called her to babysit. I remembered every birthday and holiday. I helped her buy her medications. I researched the best way to deal with anxiety. I encouraged her to take her medicine. I prayed. Took pictures of everything so Logan would remember her. I hugged her tight and told her I loved her.
But I never sat down and took time to see her heart.
Except for the day she died.
It had been seven weeks since her surgery. Seven weeks since doctors told us there was nothing they could do. Just seven weeks. She was staying at our house so I could care for her. And when I heard her shallow breathing that morning, I knew it was the day we’d say goodbye.
I called Hospice. Convinced her to call my siblings to say goodbye. Took pictures of her and Logan eating popsicles on the bed. Called her sister, friends and pastor. Painstakingly went over all her medications with the nurse. Answered the phone and relayed messages. Scooped up my then two-year-old Logan to give hugs and kisses as she whispered “Goodbye, Logan. I love you.” Then, In the middle of the madness, I stopped.
What would I want if this were my last day?
Bible in hand, I slipped into her room and smoothed back her hair. And I sang. She was afraid even then. “Help me, I’m dying . . I've been rebellious. “ I sang about the Blood of Jesus. I read aloud every scripture about Heaven that I could find. I sang as peace filled her room. And then, as her breath took longer and longer, I curled up next to her and told her to go. She was leaving a legacy and was the best mom a girl could have. I’d take care of dad, the kids and we’d see her in Heaven in what would seem like minutes.
I open the notebook one more time and flip it over to the last page. Still hoping for something that makes sense. And finally, there it is:
To my wonderful family,
Remember the good times. Never the bad. The days we went to church as a family were my happiest times. I love each and every one of you the same and very proud of you . . .
[The page is ripped here and I wonder if she tore it out because if anyone found this, we’d say she was crazy or acting doomed]
But her signature diagonal scribble is scrawling up the side . . .
. . . baby I love . . . good daughter and Mom [that would be for Janelle]. Kim, the good mom and wife. I love you. Tristan, I won’t get to know but I love you. Logan, you’re a great kid. Johnathan, Grandma will miss you. John, the faithful father. Andy, I love you . . .
Thank you, Mom. For the notebook. I love what remains.