My biggest journey in life would bring me clear across the Atlantic Ocean, to a final family reunion. It was a pretty warm night as I sat outside talking to friends. We had barbecued and were just having a conversation about Sigonella, Sicily, Italy, where I was stationed at the Naval Legal Service Office Detachment. We were talking about dealing with the challenges of military life, missing home and what we would do if we got out. My experiences had been awful. Everything that you think could go wrong had gone wrong. People used to ask me why I would laugh at everything and I would say it was to keep from crying.
When I went to bed that evening, I had a dream. I dreamt that my mother was calling me. She was telling me that I needed to come home. I only had $200.00 to my name. That had to last me for a week, until I got paid. I put in a request to my commanding officer to take thirty days of leave. I had sixty days available to me. He did not want to give me thirty, so I compromised, taking twenty. I wanted to get home. His reasoning was that he could not afford for me to be gone that long.
I prayed about it and went to the terminal to see if I could get a flight out for my wife, my son, and myself. God was looking out for me. I was able to get seats into Philadelphia and book a commercial flight to Cleveland for all three of us. My son was ten months old when we arrived in Lorain, Ohio. We surprised everyone. This was the first time that my mother had seen her grandson in person. She only had pictures that I had sent to her.
The day after I arrived, my sisters told me they were going to the amusement park, Cedar Point. I decided that I had travelled enough and wanted to stay home with my mom. I did not know that my mother had been sick and was taking medication. We talked about everything and I had an opportunity to fix her some lunch, vacuum the house, clean windows, wash dishes and help out around the house. She was excited knowing that I still did the same things that I did when I was at home. Also, every morning while I was there I would get up with my son and fix him some breakfast. She thought that was a great thing.
It was a few days later that I took her to the doctor. She had said to me that the medication she was taking was making her sick. I told her that no one knew her body like she did, and she needed to let the doctor know. She was a person that never took medication and was used to home remedies. When we left the doctor, she told me that she had told the doctor and that he would be changing the medication. Later on that day, my mother and I were sitting on the back porch. She was my best friend, so I felt very comfortable talking to her about anything. While we were sitting there talking, the sun had gone down and you could hear the birds chirping as if they were singing a song. I remembered this because it was unusual; usually you only heard them chirping in the early morning. My mother went inside and sat on the couch. She was talking to my sister, who was a nurse, and told her that she needed a nitro glycerin patch. This really concerned me and I asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital. She said yes, so we took her. They admitted her that night into intensive care. Everyone had left, but I stayed back to talk to her. I did not want to leave. She told me that I needed to go and she would be okay. She thanked me and told me she was so happy that I had come home and that she would be able to cook for me when she got home. She would see me the following day. As I left the hospital, I kept thinking that maybe I should go back. I was supposed to go by a friend’s house to see a heavy weight-boxing match on pay per view, but I was not in the mood. I went back to my mother’s home. I got something to eat and talked to some family members, trying to figure out what might be wrong.
It was not long after that the phone rang. I picked up the phone and the nurse said, “Hi, this is Lorain Community Hospital. You mother is coding.” I quickly hung up the phone, called my sisters and brothers and ran out the door to go to the hospital. I raced up the street in my rental car with the flashers on. It would normally take about 15 to 20 minutes to get there, but I made it in about 10 minutes. I raced through the doors of the hospital trying to get to my mother’s room. Unfortunately, when I got to the desk, I was met by a doctor and nurse that told me that my mother had expired. Minutes later, the rest of my family showed up. We were devastated. I could only think, “Why Lord? She was only 59! Why did you take her away from me?” I stayed and consoled my sisters as long as I could.
It took me a while to get back home, whereI cried like a baby. I had pains running through me that I have never experienced before. When I arrived, it was somber. Everyone was crying. My dad had made it home and was in tears. As the evening grew into the wee hours of the morning, we began to talk about things that our mother had said or done. We laughed and giggled for a long time. We talked about how we would prepare for her farewell and make it the best celebration.
No one really slept that night. The next morning was really hard for me, because I realized even more that my best friend was no longer at my disposal. I had the Red Cross send a message to my command in Italy. I got a call from my commander saying that he was sorry for my loss and I could take as much time as I needed. I guess that was guilt from making me barter with him for my vacation. The house seemed different already, because mom was not sitting in her chair in the kitchen watching the news. There was no smell of coffee in the air or breakfast being prepared. Later that evening, as I sat outside on the porch, I heard the birds chirping like they had the previous day Again, I was puzzled, until it finally dawned on me that it was God calling her home, that was why the birds were singing so loudly. It was like the trumpets had sounded to open up the gates. I shed tears as I sat there, thinking about how spiritual my mother was and the things that she had instilled in all of us.
The day came when it was finally time to lay my mother to rest. It was not a good day for me. It seemed that it was harder than the day that she passed away. But, it would not be until I had to pack to make that journey back to Sicily that I would encounter the worst episode of pain. It was the longest flight in history for me. I thought about how lonely I was without my family How lucky they were to be surrounded by one another. I only had my spouse, who said that she did not know what to say. A radiating pain of hurt raced through my body once again. It just hurt so much.
Upon arrival in Sicily, I was greeted by my Officer in Charge and the rest of the personnel. They shared their condolences with me and gave me cards and a basket of food. I was told to take as much time as I needed off and to return when I felt I was ready. Our friends met us at our home and I shared with them what had happened. The love and warmth that they shared with me reassured me that I had extended family. I grieved for days, sometimes crying uncontrollably. Then, finally, I got back into the flow of things and went back to work. That helped, because at least I could then focus on something other than her, but it still hurt and every day was a challenge.
My first Thanksgiving and Christmas were horrible. That pain once again came over me. As the years have gone by, I must say that it has gotten easier. Mother’s Day is a day that I don’t particularly care for. It brings back wonderful memories but also pain. I remember all the beautiful cards that I used to send her and call her to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Sometimes I will read a scripture in the bible, Our Daily Word, or GuidePost, to get some of that knowledge that she would share with me. There have been countless times that I have gonet back to Norman Vincent Peal, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, or to Leo Bascaglia to freshen up on the lessons of love and positive thinking to help me through my tough times. It is unfortunate that my children never got a chance to talk to their grandmother, but I have certainly educated them on who she was and the knowledge that she instilled in me. Reaching out to those in need, having a kind gesture for others, working hard to attain your goals and her favorite “be for me, not against me” – all these wonderful lessons I have taught them on her behalf.
My mother is always with me. She's the whisper of the leaves as I walk down the street, she's the smell of certain foods that revive memories of the past. I remember the flowers that she loved and the perfume that she wore. She was the doctor, nurse and Angel when I was not feeling well; She would breathe new life into any situation that we considered a problem. She was the sound of the rain and a gentle breeze that helped you to sleep. She was the clap of thunder and the crackle of lightning when you disobeyed her. She was like the color of a rainbow that reached far beyond the naked eye when helping others. She had the heart of a true warrior and instilled it in me. My Mother lives inside my laughter, she’s in every tear drop. My mother showed happiness, sadness, fear, love, anger, hope, excitement, joy, sorrow and the most important, the power of prayer. And all the while hoping and praying that I would experience some, if not all, of this, and know the good feelings in life. She taught me well and I will continually plant the seed in everyone that I come into contact with. Thanks, Mom, for the gifts that you have given me.
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Written by Keith Sage