I was here four weeks ago, having just learned then of my husband’s mother’s death, here in the Incheon Airport en route from Mongolia, heading home.

I just learned via e-mail that my mother died a couple of hours ago.  It is too late.  Should I not have been at Mom’s bedside, moistening her lips, listening to her last breaths?

I am stunned, saddened, and quietly crying.

This experience is not how I pictured it.  How can seventy years just suddenly stop like that?  It is an answer to prayer—her suffering has ended—and yet we are taken off guard.  Perhaps the reality and finality of death is always a bit of a surprise?  A woman using the computer next to me keeps asking for help, jerking me back into this world between flights.

Sadness is weighty, like an elephant sitting on my chest.  The mourning comes in waves, as memories pass through my mind and escape with the tears leaving salty trails along my cheeks.  I am grateful for eternal life, but the loss feels so abrupt and final.  I take a walk up and down the airport halls leading to gates and planes ready to carry people into foreign worlds.  Color, flowers, a gigantic butterfly mobile, murals, a mother-of-pearl display, all things that Mom would have liked, catch my attention and cause more tears.

Arrived at LAX…maneuvered customs…but was so sleepy that I bumped into the metal detector.  Fortunately, the TSA worker could barely keep her eyes open either and suggested I just back up and try again.  Everything seemed a blur.  I am sad and sorry, glad and relieved, all at once.

Obituary, mortuary, eulogy.  This gig is too familiar.

I am moving Mom’s clothes into black trash bags and thinking that this is a good job for me.  I can handle it emotionally.  I can easily separate the emotions from the task.  Suddenly, as I slip pink, white, and flowered blouses from their hangers into the plastic, tears begin to pour like rain.  A life—these clothes embodied a life, not just any life, but the life that gave me life.  Gone, ended, finished.  Sad again.

My husband and I are both mom-less now.  God’s timing is puzzling, but we trust and focus on the next thing. We are grateful for our mothers and for those helping to carry us through.  I have a choice: to dwell on the past in sadness (a certain measure of this is healthy), or to be thankful and vow to invest in relationships more, to live in the present, and to be thankful.  Life is a gift.  Life passes so quickly.

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