Apr 16 2016
From April 8-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.
On Cheering Each Other On
An Authenticity Project guest post by Stephanie Gates
96 days ago, my mom died.
I am a single mom. I have four kids who fall every odd year between 3 and 9. I’m doing my best to resurrect a career after 10 years at home. And I live far from family. Which is to say, I was burning all cylinders just to keep us afloat BEFORE my mom died.
No matter, 96 days ago today, my family lost my sweet, spontaneous mom. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. At age 60. With lots of little grandkids and a husband who was devoted to her and a life she loved. Just like that, she was gone.
But I don’t want to tell you about that. I want to tell you what happened next.
We did all the things you do – flew home, planned a funeral, saw hundreds of people I knew as a kid in my small southern hometown, sat in the sunroom with my dad and stared at one another, silent but together, then flew back. I walked in the door with my overtired, overstimulated kids, and just stared. Stared at the crumbs and dog hair and unfinished homework and piles of laundry and ninja turtles and baby dolls tossed into every corner in the house, at the routines I would need to re-establish, the deadlines I had missed, the dishes that had been used moments before her death, and never quite made it into the dishwasher … I took it all in, sat down, and cried.
Even if you haven’t lost your mom, you’ve probably experienced that moment. It felt the same – the EXACT same – as the moment you bring a baby home. Not the elation and beauty, not the first pictures and impossibly soft cheeks, but the other one, the one where it dawns on you that you have to actually keep a human being alive now.
In the weeks following the birth of every one of my children, I sat down at my kitchen table, covered my face, and cried. God, or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever it is that doles out babies and funerals, was wrong. I was, in fact, NOT capable of mothering this child. What were They thinking, entrusting me with this level of responsibility? ME, the woman who never makes her bed, whose filing system is basically just stacking all the mail on the counter until it topples over and I throw the whole mess away? ME, who has never, in thirty something years, figured out how to consistently keep her car clean? Whose life motto is “Good Enough”? What in the world made God, or Life, or the Universe, hand ME this precious tiny life and believe I could somehow lead it into conscious, whole adulthood?
I would cry, and tell Life that She had made a serious error in judgement. Then I would usually send a text to my best mom friend and say something like, “In the weeds. Pretty sure I can’t do this. Send coffee.” Then I would stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Usually because by that time a baby was crying or a toddler was playing in the faucet.
I had the exact same moment after my mom died.
What was God – or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever makes the call – thinking? There was no way I could do this. I simply was not capable of creating the life in front of me. A life without my mom, where now I know all of the fundamental pieces of our lives can just … fade away. A life where my children would not know the woman who had shaped my very soul. It just wasn’t possible. There was no way I could pull this off. Whoever thought I could was just. flat. wrong.
From that place I emailed a new friend, an online friend who had lived through her own tragedy a few years earlier. I don’t remember exactly what the email said, but it went something like: “Dude. In the weeds. No way I can pull this off.”
And she did something that changed my life. Rather, that helped me begin to live out this new life, the one without my mom.
She didn’t promise to pray for me. She didn’t send Scripture. She didn’t offer the frozen silence I have learned to interpret as, “I really care about you and I’m so sad you have to go through this but I also have NO IDEA what to say or how you need me to respond.” She did none of that.
Instead, she cheered me on.
“You are doing the hardest part right now,” she said. “And you’re doing it! You’re already actively doing it. You got out of bed, you put kids on the bus, you put something that came out of a box in front of them for dinner. You know you can do this because you already are! You are so much more of a bad ass than you can see in this moment. But I can see it. You’re strong and capable and you’ve got this! Look at you go!”
Her words echoed like the cheers from the sideline of a race. I didn’t need advice, I didn’t need pity, I didn’t need the silence laden with concern. I needed a cheerleader. Her encouragement gave me the energy to stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Pretty soon I had some momentum again, and it wasn’t quite so hard to imagine how we were going to get through the day.
So often, when our friends are staring down a life they did not choose, we don’t know how to respond. Once the cake is eaten, the casserole delivered, the funeral over, what do we do next? There are moments for all of it. Moments for prayers, moments for Scripture, moments for writing a check to help with unplanned expenses, moments even for silence laden with concern. But there’s also a moment when what we need most in all the world is someone to cheer us on. Some days, it’s the only thing that helps us stand up, wash our faces, and get back to work. Because maybe God, or Life, or the Universe, wasn’t so crazy after all.
Stephanie Gates writes, edits, and mothers a bunch of little kids in Denver, Colorado. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me. We’ll talk.