old family photo
Dad says good-bye.
I won’t be sending my mom a Mother’s Day card this year. Or a birthday one. Or Christmas. Definitely not Christmas. She pretty much ruined Christmas. Holidays will never be the same.
Ten days before this last Christmas, she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly. It was just like the movies, that phone call that wakes you up and you know it can’t be good news. It took awhile to sink in when my brother said, “… she passed away.” “What?” I said, not because I wanted him to repeat it but because I couldn’t understand it. I just spoke to her a few days before and she sounded great. She was getting ready for Christmas, wrapping gifts and signing cards. She wanted to start planning for our visit to see her and my dad in the Philippines in March. We were supposed to celebrate our one-year anniversary there so my new husband could meet all the family who couldn’t come to the US for our wedding. Mom wanted to have a party.
Well, she got her damn party. Everyone was there. They came from everywhere; some took several days to travel by bus from the countryside to be there. And mom just laid there.
It’s true, dead people really do look like they’re just sleeping. Mom looked peaceful and beautiful in the dress she wore to my wedding. In the last few minutes of her funeral, dad begged her to wake up.
I’ve been to funerals before. When I worked at the Denver Post in 1999, I had to go to several funerals in just one week, after the Columbine High School shootings. Those moments – taking pictures of mourning families and caskets of dead children – left me questioning my life and what I was doing with it. I wondered what the hell I was doing there, and what for, and was it worth it. I considered quitting photojournalism for awhile.
That was over ten years ago and I haven’t had feelings or thoughts about quitting again – until my mom’s funeral.
Helpless. Distraught. Confused. Depressed. I had them all. I couldn’t even make myself write this blog.
Then slowly, as I talked to friends and told stories about the funeral, I started to realize something. At my mom’s funeral, I learned so much about her, really amazing things. Those discoveries made me feel proud and happy. Mom and I didn’t always get along so well, and we disagreed often, but I always respected her, and now I loved her in a whole new way. It was weird that I could simultaneously feel the pain of death and the joy of love. I loved learning about my mom and that helped me get through it. She was a pretty wonderful person with an incredibly generous heart. She was devoted to her church and her family. She constantly donated time and money to the church, and helped family members like a cousin who approached me at the funeral to tell me, “You don’t know this but when I was in school, your mom paid for all my schoolbooks.” He’s a doctor now.
At her funeral, my brother and I did the eulogies. I just said all the things to her that I would’ve said if I had the chance to say good-bye. What I wouldn’t give for just five minutes. There’s so much I should have said to her and done for her when she was alive. Those feelings still haunt me.
Oh, the guilt. All the “shoudda’s” and “couldda’s”. I was consumed by guilt. Guilt about my mom, guilt about my life, guilt about working or not working. It made me think about all the work I should’ve accomplished, all the good I could’ve done. Have I done enough, said enough? That’s why I can’t quit now. I still believe in making a difference — mom bought schoolbooks, I can shoot a story. I was too late to say a lot to my mom but I still have a voice for others – do some good while I’m still here. That’s what journalists do. Until they die.
I hope that everyone who reads this has someone to send a card to on Sunday. And be thankful – that your Mother’s Day is Happy.
Photos and video by InfiniteBrett