Love Overcomes Death

Photo of mom's cemetery by Charles Knapp

By Mike Johnson

Fifty-two years ago this March, my mother died.

I was 14, my brothers were 11 & 8.
Mom had been sick for years & often hospitalized.
When home, she always wore a yellow duster over her pajamas.

Dad was a heavy drinker back then, halfway justified by all he was going through.
He was naturally stern, often too severe, but sometimes a delight.
When he went off the rails, mom was the one who protected us.

I don't know if every father was a gruff communicator back then, but ours was.
A week before, my only warning was just before bed.
"You know fella, mama's really sick," he said.
But it didn't register because she was always sick.

The last time I saw her was at the hospital on a Sunday afternoon.
Due to minimum age rules, I'd never been allowed to her room.
This time I was. My brothers were not.

Her & dad must've suspected this was the end but they didn't tell me.
Mom looked her best in weeks.
The visit was pleasant but did not reveal what was coming.
No "I love yous" in our family.

On Friday morning, dad stayed home from work.
This had never happened.

He sent us off to school.
I knew something was off but refused to dwell on it.
It randomly bit me throughout the day.

When we got home at 3pm dad was there.
He told us to do our paper routes in record time.

The lady across the street usually got us off to school in the mornings.
She was on my route.
She stopped me, made deep eye contact & asked how I was.
"Fine," I said, cheerfully.
She gave me an odd look.

Finally all three of us returned home.
Dad gathered us in the living room.
Told us to sit down.
I could feel darkness coming.

"Fellas, I've got some really bad news. Mama died."

Wow. What?
What's a 14-year-old supposed to do with that?
I cried.
My brothers cried.
Then we went to our rooms & stayed there for two full days.

Mom was 38.
She'd died near midnight on Thursday night.
We'd slept through it.
Dad had gone to her side at the hospital alone.

We eventually learned it was breast cancer.
Hearing both foreign, private words for the first time sounded shameful to us.

We carried that grief and shame as we reentered the world.
Used to being invisible, we were suddenly under a spotlight of attention.
Most people quickly averted their look and avoided us.
But we saw them glance back from the side of their eye.
We were the kids with the dead mother.

The survivors of death live on display in a strange half-world.

Of course I'm fine now.
And I believe in eternal life so no worries for mom.
But what fun it would've been to share the next five decades with her & our families.

I don't remember anything before age five & not much of mom due to her frequent hospital visits.
But one memory of her stood out from all the rest.

This was a love story without the words.
I still feel it today.

Here it is: "Age Walks on Eggshells"


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