My mom died this past week. With the hand of God, the help of a dream, and the girls from the shelter, I move forward.
“Ms. Matei, your mother’s passing is close.”
The nurse’s words through the phone brought me fully awake. “I’ll come right now”
When I arrived at the hospital, I held my mother’s weak hand. I kissed the cheek of a slight version of the strong woman who had raised me. Then she was gone. I was left to reflect not only on her life, but also on the dream I was having when the nurse had called me.
In my dream, soft, light bathed my mother’s bedside while I stood in a darkened corner. I couldn’t see my mother because friends and family surrounded her. They were speaking softly to her, stoking he head and her hair. Then they began to weep and I knew she was dead.
Now, grief clutched my throat so hard that I could barely breathe. My mother and I had wasted so many years living in a strained relationship with one another. She wanted to protect me. I wanted to see what was possible and push beyond the limits. My mother grew up in the communist era, where the goal was to go unnoticed and do nothing to upset anyone in order to stay out of prison. I chose not to live my life in fear so I excelled in making her feel uncomfortable. My lifestyle provided her no assurances for my safety.
When a student demonstration went awry in the late 1980’s the police showed up at her apartment searching for me. Later, when she learned that I had fled Romania and was in a Serbian jail, she worried about me and pleaded for me to change. While I decided to move to Australia, certainly a more docile environment, the geographical distance created a different kind of strain on our relationship. For years, the two people she cared for most, her grandson and I, were out of reach.
Even ten years later, when I returned to Romania and started the work with the trafficked victims, to avoid what I perceived as her pessimism, I continued to put emotional distance between my mother and myself. Years of disappointment had left my mother hard and tough. I, in turn, created barriers that didn’t allow me to recognize the good that God had also placed within my mother.
Her illness had forced her to recognize that there was no way to control her outcome or her surroundings. When she embraced a gentler side of herself I began to see my mother as the warm, loving woman God had created her to be.
I had so hoped for another twenty years with my mother so that we could enjoy our new way of relating to one another. Instead, I had to leave her at the hospital, dead and alone.
When I finally arrived home, it was the middle of the night. I lay down and tried to rest, but thoughts of the days ahead almost caused me to hyperventilate. My car sat in the driveway completely out of gas. According to Romanian tradition, I would need to prepare a meal for all those who would come to mourn my mother’s death and make all the funeral arrangements. In larger families, these tasks are divided between the siblings. But I was an only child, so I would need to do it all. Somehow, I’d still need to be mommy to my four-year-old twins at a time when I just felt like huddling in a corner and grieving. How would I accomplish it all?
Then I remembered the dream I was having when the nurse had called to let me know my mom didn’t have much more time. In my dream, as I had stood off to the side in the dark and sobbed, a hand had come from behind. It rested on my shoulder and as it did so, peace flooded me. I didn’t turn to see whose hand patted my shoulder. I didn’t need to turn. I knew by the peace that inundated my entire being; the hand could only belong to the one who created me. Only God could possibly know what I needed and provide for me at this time. Remembrances of that dream stilled my racing heart and I drifted off to sleep.
When the sun rose, the woman who comes to help me with my twin girls arrived and set some things in motion. She saw to it that I had gas in my car. She contacted the shelter. The social worker and the girls (trafficked victims) decided they would take care of all the food. The girls lightened my load as they shopped and prepared a wonderful meal for my mother’s funeral. Then, later at the church, they sat with me. They held my hand; they hugged me; they reached out and rubbed my shoulder.
My interaction with the girls has been bumpy at times. They have been physically wounded, emotionally hurt and abused in every way. When they arrive at the shelter, it almost always begins as a one-sided relationship. They’re so used to self-protecting emotionally, that they’ve built walls around their hearts. I, on the other hand can at times be a bit tough. My attitude is often, “OK, so you’ve been hurt. Does this make you the center of the universe?” The girls’ attitude and mine sometimes clash creating emotional distance.
But on the day of my mother’s funeral, when I was so needy and all my toughness disintegrated, these girls became the hand of God to me as they stroked my hair and wiped my tears.