An Elegy for My Mother

Delivered November 1, 2014


I am Skylar, DaLee’s eldest surviving son. My mother claimed in a notebook she gave to me that she hated being forced to come to church. If she were here to witness this service, I hope that she would enjoy it nevertheless.

I admit that I am torn in two: I am glad to be here with all of you—I’ve met many of my wonderful family members for the first time—, but because of what being here means, I wish, more than anything, that I was elsewhere.

And what being here means is that we have all lost somebody significant in our lives. All of us have, at one time or another, had some sort of attachment to my mother. It is this attachment—a kind of love, really—that makes the loss we have experienced together as painful as it is.[1]

The Nature of Our Grief

Let me share with you what I have been convinced is the cause of the grief we feel now and will likely continue to feel in the future. All of us cared about my mother to some degree and as a result still want her to be alive. She is gone, and we miss her. At the same time, we all know that it is impossible for her to ever again be alive with us in this life. The desire for her to be alive still is present, but it is impossible for this desire to be met. This is what causes our grief.

There are three things that will determine how much you grieve now, and how long you will continue to grieve in the future. The first is simply the desire for her to be alive. The second is how much you desire her, were she still alive, to experience all the wonderful things that life gives to us. The third is not shared to the same extent by everyone, and is what makes the grief more intense for some of us. And that is all the things we wish we could have experienced with her if she were still alive.

Never again will my mother’s voice sound as she speaks or sings. Nor will she ever laugh, cry, or get angry.[2] She will never again listen to her favorite song or feel the joy of discovering something new. She will no longer hear the words “I love you.”

My phone will never ring because she has called me; she will never leave me her silly, long messages that she used to leave.[3] I will never be able to travel with her, give her a birthday present, or tell her that I love her. I will never be able to throw a snowball at her, or sit around a fire with her. She will never hold her granddaughter, nor will she ever be in a picture with her. (This, for me, is what makes my grief the most intense.) These are some of the things that I desire for her and I desire to have done with her. But it is now impossible for any of these things to happen.

Some of the grief that we feel might be because of some void, some emptiness, that is now inside of us. This emptiness, like our grief, comes from the fact that our desires are no longer attached to somebody who exists here with us. All of these desires, as it were, are left floating around with nothing to attach to. As the earth would not be the same if there were no moon to reflect the sun’s light, so are we now without my mother to reflect the desires we have for her.

So it is that we are all profoundly changed by our grief. We really ought not to be the same people after something like this has happened.

My Emotions

Like me, I am sure that you have all experienced many emotions in your grief. For me the principal ones are anger and sadness.

I feel angry that the rest of the world will continue as it once did. Don’t people recognize that the world is now different? That there is one less soul—a beautiful soul—that occupies it? I don’t know why I have felt angry about this; it’s certainly nobody’s fault. But I have felt it nevertheless.

I feel angry that for most of her life she was bound by chains that were disguised as stunning bracelets. Throughout her entire life she struggled with substance abuse of one kind or another. These substances were peddled as remedies when they were only poison. I am angry that this poison killed her.

I’m well aware that some of you here facilitated her use of this poison, and I hope that you feel repentant about what you have done. I want you to know how angry I have been with you. But I forgive you. My mother’s choices were her own, and you happened to be caught up with her.

I have felt sadness over this state of life that you and her have lived. It’s really a sickness that you and my mother could not—and cannot—be cured of save by the grace of God. I am sad that she drove toward a cliff of destruction, thinking it was the highway to heaven.[4] I am sad for you, who are now in her same predicament. I beg you: do not let it kill you.

I am sad that she felt so alone. Alone enough to end her own life. I could have been there; hearing my voice could have stopped her from ending her own life.

I am even more sad that there’s a possibility she could still be alive. I’ve seen the photographs of the scene of her body. I know when they think she died. I have in my possession the last things that she ever carried. None of these things indicate to me that she really wanted to end her life. They indicate a troubled mind, but a troubled mind that thought she would come back alive. She could have been found earlier and she could still be alive. But she’s not, and I can’t bring her back.

A Parting Letter

As her son, I certainly saw my mom in the best of times and the worst, yet through all of them I was able to learn something. It’s impossible to change the past, but it still remains within our power to change how we think about the past.

For my part, I will remember my mother fondly. If I could write to her one last time, there are many things I would like to say. In case she can still hear me, these would be my words:

Mom,

I know that you never meant for any of this to happen. I know that your death was an accident. I know that you loved me and my brother more than anything else—more than I could possibly know. You never planned on leaving us this way.

You took care of me. When you got older I was hoping I could do the same for you. I had always hoped to help you find a better life when I knew more about it myself. I know seeing your granddaughter would have made you want to change even more.

I hope I have made you proud. I always wanted you to read a book I had written, to see that your life meant something to me. Your love of books made me want to be a philosopher. I wish I had told you that before.

I hope that one day I’ll see you again. You know better than I do now that this kind of desire makes no sense unless there is a God that provides that opportunity. If our memories of you help, I pray that God helps us to desire to be with you so that we will all come to know Him. You now know better than any of us that we will remain restless until our hearts rest in Him.[5]

I have to go now. But please know that I am not going without you. You are going to help me have a brighter future—to be somebody I could have never been without you.

Love, your son,
Skylar


Songs from the memorial service:
1. “Through Her Eyes,” Dream Theater.
2. “House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals.
3. “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days),” The Judds.
4. “He Still Hears,” Flatt Lonesome.
5. “Angels on the Moon,” Thriving Ivory. (I prefer Samantha Rose’s arrangement.)
6. “The Son Never Shines (On Closed Doors),” Flogging Molly.


See also:
A Poem from My Mother
A Mother’s Promise
A Short Memoir on Suicide
A Letter to My Brother


Footnotes:

[1] This sentence, and much of what I wrote in the next section, is indebted to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s books and lectures on grief.

[2] This is a reference to one of the most iconic scenes in all of video game history: The death of Aeris in Final Fantasy 7. My mother loved that game and the Final Fantasy franchise, and playing those games with her is one of my earliest memories.

[3] The week of my mother’s death, my iPhone decided to irrevocably delete all of my saved voicemails. It was a known issue, with no solution for recovery. She called me the Tuesday before she died and said that she would call me again when she got her own phone that week or so. I no longer trust any Apple products.

[4] A loose reference to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

[5] From the opening lines of Augustine’s Confessions.