A couple of days before New Year's Eve, I woke up at 9am to two texts, one missed call and a voicemail from my mother.
The first text: My kindle is broken. I can't even shut it off. It's making a stuck noise. What can I do?
The second text: Call me.
The voicemail: I got a call from Canada--Uncle Albert died. Please call me.
I took a deep breath, trying to shake the sleep from my head and to understand what I was hearing. The Kindle was a new Christmas gift, and although she didn't really know how to use it I didn't either. Uncle Albert is my mom's brother, who just turned 80 last fall. I gathered my thoughts and called her back.
What happened next is the magic that always happens when my mother and I are faced with adversity. Either of us could be at the very highest level of how much stress we are capable of handling, but as soon as the first word is passed between us, that first shaky breath drawn in and let out, we begin to get stronger. Without saying a word, our inner gumption picks itself up, dusts itself off and says, 'that's enough panic, we've got a job to do here.' I told her I was sorry about Uncle Albert, and as is her usual way she was quick to point out the positives. He wasn't ever going to get better, he was up and about the night before he passed, he had just had a wonderful Christmas with his kids and grandkids, and he had been found in his bed. Best case scenario if you think about it. I also noted that we had just had a wonderful visit with him in October, probably the best visit I've ever had with him. I took this picture at that time of him and his Bella. I don't know which one is cuter!
With that being put into perspective, we moved on to the details. The wake and funeral would be just as soon as everyone could get there, which meant for us driving the 9 hours north to New Brunswick first thing on New Year's Day. She needed to be there, and I made sure I did what I could to make that happen. The next problem was the Kindle. She held it up to the phone--it was indeed making a terrible racket. I told her to just pack it up and come over. We could both use a cup of coffee and a hug. So over she came, we hugged it out and then the laughs started. We fixed the Kindle, we called Canada and made travel plans, and we otherwise made things right.
I realized later on that our ability to do just what we did, which comes so naturally to us, is something I take for granted. I know there are a lot people who would spiral out of control and dwell on the negative emotions when faced with that situation. People that would always talk about the New Year that started with sadness, and death. Who would return to work and when asked about their holiday break would answer, 'oh it was just awful.'
But not Noella and me. We went up there and were thrilled to have the whole family all together, and to receive the kind of hugs that hold on, and mean it. We laughed on the way up about my hangover, and we laughed on the way back as the temperature dropped to -13 F. Of course there were sad moments...tears were shed, and comfort was given. Respect and love and help were offered to the five kids who lost their beloved father, and to his three grandchildren and three great grandsons who were all so close to their Pepere. But as is the way with loving families, there was more laughter than tears and more of a sense of being grateful for what we have than sadness for what we lost.
Like me, my mom may shed a tear or two around people here and there, but the majority of our tears are shed in private. It's not that we don't cry and grieve, we just choose to keep our sadness to ourselves and not to burden others with comforting us. If we are reaching out with teary eyes to someone else for a sobby hug, it's because we really really need it. (For the record, if I ever do that to you--please hold on as tight as you can, no need to say anything.) My mom has been through more in her life than I'd wish on anyone, but the strength and determination to deal with bad things in a positive manner is something she passed on to me and for which I'll be forever thankful.