December 7th means two things to me – Pearl Harbor and the day my mother died, almost 12 years ago.
Both events caused mass shock and destruction, albeit on different scales – one historical, one deeply personal.
I know it probably seems strange to you that I even note the connection between these events but as a writer, I’ve always appreciated the ripe imagery here.
My mother’s death was not a surprise attack – she had been battling a wicked head and neck cancer with weeks of radiation and then chemotherapy. The results were cruel – she lost 50 pounds and her voice only to learn that a previously undetected tumor on the base of her tongue was discovered.
I know you know – cancer sucks.
She was devastatingly brave, making even her aloof oncologist shake his head at her steely grit. He told us she probably had a couple of months left so we approached the holidays with a “We are the World” attitude, thinking we could turn the tables on cancer and make it a Hallmark Christmas.
A C. diff infection obliterated that plan pretty quickly and she died peacefully in a hospital on a blustery December night as I held her warm hand.
I was happy she was no longer in pain and that her exit was full of grace and a peace that she rarely found in her life.
My bombs dropped later, as I dealt – or more accurately, did not deal – with a paralyzing grief and despair that I had never known. And there were many causalities – my loving partner (irreparable damage), my relationship with my sister (since repaired), and my own certainness in the world (a work in progress).
I eventually made my way back to the living and my life – a new life, not the one I had always imagined. And I always think of my combat experience with grief when December 7th rolls around each year.
I think it’s important for me to remember it all – the pain, the destruction, and the armistice I finally brokered through a lot of hard work in therapy and a renewed relationship with my faith.
My mother died young – 70 – and in the past several years I’ve seen many friends navigate these same battles. I try to help in meaningful ways but for the most part, I think it is a solitary journey for each of us.
And I think Winston Churchill got it right about war, any kind of war, when he said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”