Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange

Dear Mom,

What a year it has been since I last sat by your bed, listening for the subtle changes as your breath weakened, holding your hand when you struggled and all the while knowing you were on your way back to yourself. In that room where our time together both slowed and sped up, I prayed that your final labors would soon lead you to fall asleep to pain and loss and wake to joy, renewal, and reunion.

Somehow I thought that because you were ready and we were ready—and because we had lost you so many years before—that our healing afterwards would go smoothly.

Not so true because it has been such a fight to forget those last years. Try as I can to remember you, round-faced and full-bodied with that smile that lit so many days in my life, I see you angular and receding, all but for your brown eyes that continued to speak when you could not.

That we all decline is no secret, but the extreme changes you and so many others—human and canine—experienced in these last few years—Marge, Uncle Carrell, Dick, and our pups Fordham and Abel—make me want to rage against time.

Yet, perhaps it is just that grief/anger that brought about my own physical decline—my body could not escape the pain in my heart that I would have liked to deny. If I would not sit into my grief, then my grief would sit me down.

And, so I sat.

It is only in these last few weeks in the midst of deepest winter that indeed I can stand again easily and begin, step by step, to run and dance once more. Perhaps, the timing is no coincidence.

Yesterday I saw a black hearse leading a long line of cars on an unseasonably balmy day—someone was going home with all the ceremony that helps us to understand our loss. Yet, we did not say “goodbye” to you in that time-honored way.

I insisted we wait—until the weather might allow a more joyful home-going. After all, so much of you had left so long before your final day—those black hearses had been taking parts of you home for too long. The long goodbye of Alzheimer’s meant I needed to remember you more than remember your physical presence. So I’m glad we had all the brightly-colored clothes, the music, and the orange balloons on a windy, prairie day full of the hope of spring.

Because it’s that hope of spring that gets me through missing you and reminds me that my mother will never again have to be less than she was created to be.

Forever loving you, I return to the dance of life.