As I usually do when my mom is leaving my house, I walked her to the door one day last week, and we continued chatting as she put on her shoes and collected her belongings. Maddie and Kate played at our feet as my mom and I raised our voices to be heard over their chatter.
“Tomorrow is All Soul’s Day,” my mom told me. “So I’m hoping to go to 5:30 mass.”
“Oh, ok, that’s good,” I replied. “Well, thanks again for watching the girls, Mom.”
“I always go to light a candle for Grandma and Grandpa and Wally and Ginny and Carol and Patti,” she explained, listing the names of those we’ve loved and lost. My eyes meet hers for a second, and I see the sadness on her face when she says her sisters’ names aloud. I can’t imagine how that feels. I can’t imagine a world without my own sisters.
“It’s really beautiful at church with all the candles lit,” she continues. I smile and nod, unsure what to say in response to her grief. “When I’m gone, nobody will be there on All Soul’s Day to light the candles. Nobody will be there to remember them.” She pauses and looks down to tie her shoes. Looking up, she asks, “Who will light a candle for me when I’m gone?”
Her question makes me catch my breath. It’s all too much – the unnerving admission of her own mortality, the thought of a world without my mom, the constant grief she’s carried since her youngest sister’s death to cancer, her desire to be remembered (as if she would ever be far from my mind, ever). It’s too much.
“I will, Mom,” I tell her. “I will. I’ll go to church on All Soul’s Day when you’re gone and light a candle for you. I’ll remember, Mom.”
She smiles, doubtful, I think, that I’ll really do it.
The sadness and painful honesty of that conversation is still with me, days later. A promise made to my mom.