A Letter to my #Mother, six months since she was killed

Dear Mama,

Tomorrow will be 22 weeks since you were killed. I know because every day counts itself in my head, even when I try instead to countdown good things, like our temple date that we can argue about later (six months and two weeks to go, in case you want to start arguing now). I miss you every single day.

When Nathan and I got married in the temple last October, the sealer said that the miracle of us finding each other had to do with premortal covenants we had made before and (finally?) been faithful to in mortality. I wonder if you are learning about these things now, or if you remember them. The sealer said this was a great blessing, and that it brings great power because we have had to overcome so much. That sounds good, but brings with it a great responsibility to be good stewards of this miracle we have been given. It also means the adversary is really, really not happy with us. We were told that day that the adversary would try to knock our legs out from under us so that we would surrender that power.

When you were killed, it knocked the words out of me.

I know this isn’t the part you would want to talk about, really. I know you would want to talk about Grandma being able to run through fields of roses (without sneezing), and Grandpa being able to fish again. You would want to make plans for your unfolding ministry from that side of the veil, and tell us how you will be climbing trees in between keeping all us kids in line.

I know you may think you will be tree-climbing, but really you will be called into some research type calling and have to work hard and be busy – which is fine, because that’s what you do best.

I know you wouldn’t want to talk about the awfulness of the accident or what a horrific experience that was.

But I need to talk about this part, just for a minute.

Because sometimes I still can’t breathe.

It will get better after the temple, I know.

But it all happened so fast.

We knew, me and Nathan (Nathan and I). We were prompted on two separate occasions, with very direct and specific messages that you did not have much time left. We did not know how long, and we did not know there would be a car accident. But we knew to appreciate you and love you well every single day, and we were prepared that we were running out of days.

You would be proud of me and Kirk (Kirk and I), and how we handled things – how we handled each other – after we lost you. We worked really hard at loving well, and there was zero drama. He and Carolyn have really become their own family, the new patriarch and matriarch of their own children, and they are fair and good and kind to me.

Do you remember that one of the last things you told Nathan was that you would haunt him if he didn’t take good care of me? We were at church, and it was after Sacrament meeting, and you were wearing the green dress, and you shook your fist at him. We all laughed so hard, because Nathan is the most meek and gentle and tender man on the planet. We cried, too, because of the healing we have had to be in such a place as to defend each other and for you to have a real-live-mother moment, one of those single mom moments where you played dad, too. It was only a week later that we cried because we realized it was part of you finishing your work. You were a mom, and you did a good job of it, and so you were finished. Released.

I don’t know what it is like where you are, exactly, or how that works. I know you are making progress, because I feel you teach me some of what you learn. Thank you. I know that you are continuing to learn, because I feel and see and witness and experience evidence of it, and it leaves me in awe. I know that you are shaped younger and stronger, and that it doesn’t matter that the medical examiner cremated your pain-ridden body because your resurrected body will be as I see you now. I know there are things we talked about and discussed and debated, that now you see and experience and hear as real as anything and so cannot now deny.

I know that you are with dad, and happy about it. That is hard for me, weird for me. It has been so long since we were all together. It has been so long since there was peace. It has been so long since we were friends, playmates, family. It has been so long since we laughed.

I have heard you laugh.

I have seen you laugh.

I have seen you laughing together.

It is good weird.

You are happy, mom.

That makes me cry.

I do cry a lot. Still. Not everyday, and not all the time. But when it hits, there is a tsunami wave of it, and it crashes over me until there is no air and I am drenched.

It happens when I get mail for you. It happens when someone tells me, “I remember when your mom…” It happens when no one talks about it anymore. It happens when I find another treasure of yours in my house or at my office. It happens when I reach for the soymilk and see your picture on the fridge. It happens when I reach for my keys and feel the keychain that hung from your purse since I gave it to you when I worked the inpatient unit. It happens when I pass a Sonic and don’t have to stop, and it happens when I pass a Sonic and think how I complained that we always had to stop. It happens when I look at April, and it happens when I see what a mess she is because I am not as good at poodles as you were.

It happens when I randomly find your obituary in the stack of papers I have avoided since January, but finally need to confront to clean and reclaim my house from funeral week (five months later). It happens when I try to submit my Hebrew final, and come across the folder with the pictures of your smashed up car (and the Sonic cherry sitting perfectly on the dash). It happens when your death certificate arrives in the mail, when the driver of the jeep pleads guilty, when I have to take the dogs to the vet or the groomers and change it into my name. It happens at every doctor appointment I attend, when they ask me where you are because we always went together.

It happens when every car in Oklahoma traveling west on 44 slows down at your accident site, lining up to offer their condolences. I know that really it is just construction, but I pretend they have all come to say their farewells. I try not to look at the concrete wall barricades, knowing that they are fixing the road from the gash you and the jeep and the semi truck scratched into the road. The highway patrol explained to us how it happened, how the force of the crash pushed you all into each other, and then into the road, lifting the back ends of all the vehicles into the air and carving giant dents into the highway.

I wish they were not fixing the highway, because the scar on that road was mine.

Except we are finally getting your ashes scattered, and I am glad we have safer places to visit than the middle of a highway.

It has taken ages. Kirk and his family have such crazy schedules with so many kids, and we wanted everyone to be there who could. Even still, Cobie and Billie were not there. But we tried.

We took your words at face value, and did what you asked. We scattered some of your ashes at the place we last laughed as a family, knowing your heart is with dad, and will bury the rest of your ashes in the family cemetery next month (yes, we told Jo, and she will be there). It seems like a lot of scattering to me, but it was how you lived and where you loved and what you wanted.

I know that the power of the resurrection is not limited to geography, but it still felt strange at first, to spread you about. I know that we are all part of the Earth, part of the elements, and I love the talks by Brigham Young and Orson Pratt about this – you should ask them to tell you about it. You would like them, and maybe you can meet them or hear a talk or something. It was classic, though, that it was Jessica who said all these things out loud when no one else was sure they could. When Carolyn explained to Jessica how now your body could help the Earth, and could be where so many happy families come visit and laugh and play outside, Jessica turned to me and said, “But Grandma HATED being outside!”

We laughed. I told her, though, the stories about when you were little, and what a tomboy you were. I told her how your parents had to call you down out of a tree when you got your first telephone call from a boy for a date. She liked that story.

That’s why I was writing to you today, actually. Jessica is here. It is her first time back, by herself, since you died. Kindergarten is finished and she is here for one of her week long visits this summer. I knew you would want to know every detail, and I know that we can talk and testify to you on the other side of the veil. So I thought I would send an email, and maybe it would be a surprise for you. I try so hard to bear my testimony every chance I get, because I know that when I do you can read it and study it and know what is happening in our lives and what truths we cling to and what love we feel. So when I share my testimony, know I am very consciously talking to you.

I love you, Mama. That’s what I wanted to tell you.

You would want to know all that is happening in my life, and it is only a blur. I could not even write these months because losing you really did knock the words out of me. Everything I did was for you, even when I made a mess of meager attempts, and when you were gone it was like I fell over. I could not get my breath back, and I don’t know who stole my words.

So I thought I would write today. I thought I would write everything I could think of, and then keep writing some more. I thought I would write to you.

When you died, I went back to school. School is the only thing I know how to do right. I am not good at anything else, it feels like. School was my safe place, and kept me from running away, and kept me sober and straight. So I drowned myself in school. I signed up for a degree in Jewish studies, and remembered how I cried when I was a little girl because you told me I couldn’t grow up to be a nun because we weren’t Catholic.

I tried to get my tattoos removed. They are not bad, and actually very mormon-ish, except that they are tattoos, which is not mormon-ish. But the one is scarred because I was allergic to the ink, and the other will just take awhile. Each time I try, something comes up or something stops it from happening. I wondered if this meant it didn’t matter, or if it was oppression trying to stop me, and my priesthood leaders said not to worry about it, that it was not required of me at this time. So I let it go.

I think I just wanted a good scrubbing, or a reason for pain, or a greater obedience in some last ditch effort at saving you. It’s so silly. And also false – those things are not faith, nor works, really. It’s a mess, is what it is.

So is Oklahoma. There were tornadoes for two weeks, and it has been overwhelming. I resigned from being a first responder because I wasn’t responsive for one thing. Seriously, though, it is different to go put myself at such risk when I have a family than when I can just go rogue on my own.

I am trying to take specific care of my body in some specific ways because we keep having miscarriages. It’s awful, mom. There is such hope and fear, such goodness and grief, such entire mortality wrapped up in a matter of weeks. I am numb from all the grief of it.

I don’t have cancer, though. Did you see that score Connie called with after my checkup last month? It’s like a miracle, and it is amazing.

And miscarriages or not, Nathan and I are moving forward with foster care. It is terrifying. How do I become a mother to any kind of children, without you here? How do I tell our story in ways that teach and heal, so that our family becomes something more than we were, so that you become who you always were meant to be?

Nathan has your humor, mom. I don’t know how, because he has his own parents (who still are so kind to me). I miss the banter the two of you shared – oh! You would make me laugh so hard when the two of you got going! But I am grateful, not just for the joy of who Nathan is, but for that humor that he has that reminds me of you, and so is an additional comfort to my heart. Most days.

Jessica being here is like my miscarriage-foster-care crisis. It is so parallel. I do not know if I can be an aunt, just because I am an aunt. I know how to care for Jessica so that she can have a Grandma and so that she has a great Grandma and you two are successful together. I do not know if I know how to do it directly, just her and me (and Nathan).

It is the same with foster care. I know how to facilitate nurture and teach parents and reunite families. But if there is ever a family that can’t be reunited, or if we ever have a pregnancy that “takes” – that will terrify me. I do not know how to be a mom, just to be a mom.

I do not know how to be a mom if I cannot have any kids.

I do not know how to be a mom without a mom.

That’s when the wind starts to whistle, and I can hear the air being sucked out.

So I don’t think about it.

Instead, I think about what I do know how to do: structure, organization, getting things done. Jessica’s teeth are brushed, she had a bath, we cleaned her new earring-holes, I gave her some “lip gloss” that smells like Christmas cookies, we went through her clothes that she has here, and laid out snacks for the day. We met my friend Natalie for breakfast, she had a nap, and she played outside. We did some sight words and some math and worked on cleaning the pool and weeding the garden.

We tell stories about you, mom.

I want her to remember. I want her to remember the good things. I want her to remember the adventures, the laughter, and the stories. I tell her you still love her, and when I hug her I say that it’s from you.

I need to hug her from me, too.

I need to find the air to breathe my way back to friends.

The walls around me are high and thick, old-school and protective, but not entirely healthy.

It is good we miss you, and the accident was sudden and horrific.

But I know that’s not what you would want to talk about. You would talk about long Jessica’s legs are, and how tall she is, and how her hair is starting to darken. You would talk about what adventure is next, and what silly things she says, and how I try so hard. Too hard.

Shake it off, you would say. Shake it off.

Nathan gave me a blessing last week, before we went to scatter your ashes and when I had to give away your clothes – the ones that won’t work for me or the girls or Jo.

In the blessing, it said that you love me. It said that you are proud of me. It said what President Johnson said, that my caring for you was an offering accepted and so I was released, and your willingness for a soft heart and the healing of our family was finishing your work, and so you were released. It said that it is not a betrayal of you to go back to living my life, that these years of my life focused on you are finished and it is good and right that now my life is this new family of mine that we are just now starting. It said that you will be able to minister to us better than you ever could, now that you are released from the pain and limitations of mortality. It said that you are with dad, and happy, and that you two are learning together.

We are almost halfway there, mom. We are almost halfway to the Oklahoma City temple, and I can finish my last thing I promised. There is only one last thing I can do for you, and then I can breathe again. It will be huge, the biggest miracle of all, putting into perspective our separation and healing, giving us the at-one-ment that brought you the most happiness.

And then you can be my mama for always.

Because you are.

I think that’s why this year has been so hard, besides your death. I think the adversary doesn’t like that we are healing our family. I don’t think he is pleased that we are all going to be united for eternity. Not just you, or you to your parents, but also you and dad, and me and kirk to you and dad, which FINALLY connects us to all our other ancestors who have been sealed.

Kirk and I won’t just be stranded out here in orphantown.

We are a family. Forever.

That’s the miracle.

So the adversary may try to knock our legs out from under us, but as long as we all together claim the atonement, he can’t stop us.

We won’t surrender our power.

Alma 43:9 – And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.

I won’t surrender.

And I learned that from you.

So thank you for being my “goodly parent”.

I miss you. Every day.

And I love you. For always.

Love, Me.

P.S. I cut off all my hair (not really all of it) when I knew I was done drowning in grief. There is still grief, but I am coming up for air. Cutting my hair off has always been so therapeutic. I am lighter now, and ready to breathe again. Almost.

P.P.S. Nathan was the exact right husband for me, and we are very happy “even when we are sad”, and I love him very much.

P.P.P.S. I don’t know what kind of day pass you can get, but Jessica and I would love to have you join us for girls night out tonight. It’s going to be the best surprise ever, and give me major Aunt points even if they are really Grandma points, and we are going to have a blast. I will watch for you.

Posted in Family, Life permalink

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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