Mildred (Milly) Marie Fredrickson
April 24, 1924--November 19, 2020
I don’t want to
This pen feels heavy and this thumb and forefinger are attempting a sit-down protest. To write it, is to make real that which wants to remain a dream. When asked, “How are you?” dad used to reply, “I think I’m OK, and I hope I’m not lying.” Dad, I think I understand. I don’t want to lie but the ground keeps changing as my heart keeps breaking. Words are clumsy tools when trying to give names to the liminal space between love and sorrow.
Mom died last month
It still gets stuck in my throat. I refuse to swallow and then I do. The body’s reflex to make room for another breath wins. My siblings and I had been calling her every night since the early days of COVID—a conference call that often included all four of us but always some of us and often went on for more than an hour. We read her letters, remembered stories, told her of our lives, witnessed her loneliness and unease and celebrated her life and love which is to say her grace and resilience. The calls were like long, slow family dinners, garden-raised, home-cooked meals of our childhood, talking at the same time, silence, laughter, loneliness in togetherness, and winces of pain. And then in late September she fell and broke her hip. The fracture was so severe that the only way to manage the pain was surgery. Remarkably at 96½-years-old she made it through surgery and was making a remarkable recovery. However, when she returned to the nursing home, they had a devastating COVID outbreak and mom became positive. Even though she made it through the infection period, it was all too much, and she died several days after her quarantine.
Bone of my bones
Flesh of my flesh
A dream without the dreamer
Death never lands easy but during the isolation and restrictions of COVID . . . well, we did the best we could. We sat vigil with her on Zoom for several days before her death. There were awful moments of suffering where she was lost in her pain, but she knew we were present. We sang, prayed, read, talked, cried, and sat . . . and sat . . . and witnessed. Thankfully, her last hours were peaceful. We were with her on a tablet screen as she took her last breath. It was unbearable and unbearably tender.
Exhale without an inhale
Birth in reverse
Just one more
Grief is not one thing but in fact it is a dizzy constellation of sensations and feelings during freefall. All losses are different so you can’t pull out the map from the last death and find your way. This one, Milly, mom, feels kaleidoscopic. The terrain and colors are almost too much to behold so I hold them with warm and fleshy hands, hands made for holding the small, delicate hands of a motherless child.
There is no sugar-coating loss. I don’t yet want to be fixed with heavenly promises and angel choirs. I am heart broken. As Sharon Salzburg says, “Sometimes it just hurts.” I trust grief. It is the medicine for loss—terrible, bitter, tender and sweet. There’s a wisdom I can’t claim but somehow know. Grief is a practice. I show up with as much kindness and compassion as I can. Pull back the covering and see what’s here. Mom is here in the broken places. It is here that I rediscover my blessing which isn’t bone or flesh or breath but is love. I was born in love. I am broken because I was loved so well. I love in return. In brokenness my heart mysteriously blooms, not in my time, but in grief’s good time.
Let me lay
In the fertile holy soil
With the rotting oak leaves
And the still sheathed acorn
Waiting for rain
Waiting for sun
Waiting for mom
P.S. Please know that I am OK, even when I’m not OK. This time of COVID sequester without life's usual busyness has given this walk with grief more texture and truth. I feel the unexpected miracle of gratitude—eyes that are capable of seeing connection and goodness regardless of condition or circumstance. I have been held and continue to be held in the spiritual arms, both divine and those who wear skin, of boundless compassion. For those of you who knew of mom’s death and those who are hearing this for the first time, thank you for your care and love. One of mom’s favorite stories was of a visiting missionary who told her that we were so rich. She thought it was a strange comment since we were a family of seven living on a small-town preacher’s salary. But he then added, “This family!” As I consider my given and chosen family, I too, feel so rich.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.