Dear Mom - Year One

Hi mom,

Today marks one year since your passing… one year ago when at 12:30am you took your last breath, gave up the ghost, and went home. Since then much has happened. I'll recount things on my end and let Alice and dad tell you their stories.

We start on the day of your death, that Saturday, we all (your sisters, dad, Alice, Liz, and myself) went for a walk in the canyon. Even though we had just experienced the worst, there was a sense of ease and release that we all shared during that walk. What was done was done and we all felt like we could rest.

A week later we had a beautiful memorial service for you at MCWE. Liz designed the program, which I think you would have really liked. The service was held in the TV studio and was packed. Many people that were close to you in life came up and spoke: The Sorrentinos, Susan, your bible study, Alice, me, Dad, and MC and TC. Each speaker had a beautiful part of you to share with the group and we all laughed, cried, and celebrated your incredible life. Alice read a poem in French from that side of our family and shared from her heart. Dad did a Mourner's Kadish and sang some of a song in Hebrew that you two used to listen to. Both were really wonderful. We hadn't all discussed what we were going to say, so hearing about you from them both was so incredible.

Here are the words that I shared during the service.

First I want to thank you all for coming out today, I know it would have meant the world to my mother to see so many people she loved and cherished gathered in her memory.

These past few months and especially these last few weeks, have been some of the hardest that I've had to endure. I've experienced sorrow unlike anything I have before. This has led me to some reflections.

Why is it so hard to watch someone go? Why is that so painful?

It's because we weren't meant for this. We weren't created for death.

This world is really broken. There is something really wrong.

I think it's in experiencing that brokenness, in living through the wrongness of death, that I can fully appreciate who my mother was.

My mom was a wellspring of love. She loved me.

Looking back I can't think of a single time in my life where I didn't feel loved by her. There hasn't ever been a flicker of doubt or even a moment of wondering.

I knew, so deep down, so steadily, and so richly, that she loved me.

In everything that she did, in every meal she made, in every story she told, in every word of encouragement or word of hard truth that I needed to hear, in every laugh, in every cry, in every silence, she communicated love. I think many of you here also experienced that kind of love from my mom as well.

Her life was beautiful poetry.

As I grieve my mother I know it will be more than just today, or more than this past week.

I will continue to mourn her passing in the memories that are to come. My wedding day. When my children are born. During the holidays. On my walks to work.

These will be moment when her silence will ring loud and her absence will be stifling.

These will be the moment when I'll miss her.

There's a song I really like that describes a scene where the singer is in the hospital visiting a loved one who is dying. The song describes the sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital and the reflections as the singer processes it all.

At the end he recalls something he once heard, which is that love is watching someone die.

Over the last six months many of you came alongside us to watch my mother die. And that is love.

Thank you for that.

I hope you liked it.

This service was followed by some time at Susan’s where we all gathered as friends, ate Marie Sorrentino’s food, and shared in each other’s warmth. We were sad, deeply sad, but the sadness made us glad to be with each other.

Life somewhat returned to normal once I was back in the Bay Area. As normal I suppose as things could be for someone who just lost their mother. Liz and I took a trip to Seattle to visit Zack and Sarah and Alice happened to be going that same weekend which was a huge surprise and bonus. It was really a nice chance to get away, have fun, and not have to think about much.

I noticed that in the weeks leading up to my proposing to Liz, I felt a great weight and sorrow grip me. I remember lying in bed for several nights thinking of you and weeping, weeping deeply at your absence from my life. I felt like those cries was a process of emptying myself, of creating room so that I could fill it with Liz. It was shortly after that time, on July 14th (Bastille Day, I thought you’d appreciate it) that I asked Liz to be my wife. I proposed to her under that same tree you napped under during your last visit. You were so peaceful as you slept.

The very next month Liz and I headed to France where Paula actually came to the island again! It was such a perfect time. Amazing weather (finally!), sailing, swimming, great food, and just an overall really special time with family and a great chance for everyone to meet and get to know Liz. They loved her of course. After France Liz and I headed to Spain to go camping in the Pyrenees. Gosh mom you would have LOVED the hike through here. Did you ever go hiking in these parts? I guess I can't ask you now...

Once back in the Bay we had 6 weeks to plan our wedding, set for October 12th. The only thing we had done before leaving for France was to secure the venue, the Foothills Park where I took you, I proposed to Liz, and now was becoming the place where we were to get married! We felt SO blessed that it was available and that we could have our special day there. We had a lot to do and little time to do it. Boy did we plan. We ended up receiving so much love, joy, and service from our friends and family but it was an ordeal to plan a party for over 100 people, in a park with no power or facilities, in 6 weeks.

The week before our wedding I had my last day at work. You listened to me complain, hem and haw, and be so indecisive about leaving for so many years. I guess it just took you passing on and me getting married to realize that life is too short and I finally have someone at my side that makes this all seem less scary. I celebrated my last day how I wanted, which was with a ton of junk food.

October 12th, 2013 - wedding day (est non, pas D Day mamman!). What a beautiful day we got to share with our friends and family. We had a moment of silence for you and Alice and Dad got to speak for 5 minutes each. JB and Ninon came out from France for it, which was unbelievable. All it took was for me to get married to get them out here… not sure what I’ve got up my sleeve for next time. I REALLY think you would have loved our wedding. I could just imagine you eating the Korean Burgers and fries, having dad go back to get you seconds so it didn’t look like it was you that was doing all the eating. You also would have appreciated Chris’ cake. God, what a masterpiece. I could see you two talking shop and really getting a deep conversation about cake frosting. It was the first experience since your passing of a milestone that I had to experience without you. It was definitely a day that was in a context I had not envisioned it to be, but so it was.

Your only advice to Liz and I was that marriage was hard work and that we'd really have to work at it. You were right on mom. We are continually discovering new ways to love for each other, and along with that in our fallen selves new ways to hurt each other. I have learned SO much about myself in the last six months as Liz acts as a mirror for me to clearly see my actions, emotions, insecurities, delights, pains, ugliness, and beauty. I have learned that marriage isn't easy, but it is SO SO SO worth it. I love Liz more every day, every week, and every month. That she continues to press into me despite all that I've shown her, draws me closer and closer to her with every passing moment. We believe that these struggles we face now are setting up a solid foundation for the rest of our lives and our future family, they're just hard to go through sometimes.

Back to our story. After a really relaxing and sweet honeymoon (we had friends come out and join us in Tahoe for the second part of it), we had to get right into our next project: getting rid of all of our stuff and preparing for our move to Montana. We had decided to get our lives down to a single car load, so we went out and got a used Ford Expedition to make sure it was a big car. That time was a whirlwind, saying goodbyes, selling possessions, giving things away, and buying warm clothing for the winters here. I think we really set a precedent for how simply we’d like to live and how free we’d like to feel.

Now here we are in Montana. It’s been 3 months and 19 days since we arrived. We haven’t seen as much stuff as we would have thought nor accomplished as much as we would have hoped, but we are enjoying this time of peace. It is hauntingly beautiful here. While I know you didn’t understand this idea of us living in Montana when I had discussed it with you before your passing, I think seeing us here, and seeing what we’re surrounded by, would have helped you understand. I think we would have received your blessing on this endeavor. Where Liz and I go from here, where our careers will take us, where we’ll end up living, we really don’t know. We just know that we’re supposed to be here right now, for this season.

One thing I do have to make special mention of though mom… ZACK GOT MARRIED! I know wild right? Papa bear is all grown up. It was so great to see Sarah and he commit their lives to each other. I’m such a big fan of those two.

You’re all caught up now… you know the highlights of what has happened in the last year. Now your turn.. how are things in heaven? … I guess I’ll have to wait and see for myself huh?

While this past year has been INCREDIBLE, all of these experiences have been tainted by your absence. I have a recurring experience, like looking around at a table filled with friends and family, smiling into each of their faces, until I come across an empty seat, your seat, and I remember.

The wanting comes in waves, the pain in cycles, always at unexpected times. Sometimes when I head to bed after Liz, I hear her deep breathing as she sleeps. It reminds me of lying next to you in those final weeks as you rested, stepping further into your journey towards the light. Sometimes those simple breaths haunt me, as if you it were you in bed next to me resting peacefully. In those times I break down weeping, groaning in my soul, doing my best to keep silent to not disturb my sleeping wife, but deeply missing you. This same feeling will hit me at other times, listening to a specific song on my computer or driving alone in the car. You haunt me still and I would never have you let me go.

I wish I could see you today, show you my life, and hear your voice on the phone. I wish I could ask you questions about marriage and about my plans for my life. I wish I could know you were there, as I had for almost 29 years, a fixture in my life. I wish I could walk up to the door of our house in San Diego and have you waiting for me with a smile on your face. There are so many experiences, questions, and parts of my life I want you to share in.

But this will never happen mom, because death separates you from me.

I miss you.

Your loving son,