On the Death of my Mother
[A Personal Reflection] My mother died on April 7, 2013. It’s a plain and ugly fact that can only be said with plain and ugly words. And since that day I have hoped for the solace that many have reported. I am speaking of the inexplicable experience of feeling the presence of a departed loved one. I can’t say that I have had such an incident. I have not felt as though she were with me — watching me. I have not felt as though she is embracing me from beyond. No. Rather, since the passing of my mother, in the tiny moments of joy and grief that punctuate each day, I can only say that I have strongly felt an impulse to reach out to her, to call her, to call for her. And occasionally I will try writing to her. But when I am finished, I experience only the lack of a response. I have felt nothing but the absence of her presence.
The absence of the presence of a person is unlike any other absence one can experience. When I lose my keys, I experience frustration. The same is true of any other material object that I value. When those objects go missing, or break, I feel anger, frustration, sadness, etc. But with a person, it’s profoundly different. Yes, I have felt anger; I have felt frustrated, and sad too. But in addition to these emotions, I have also, in a very real sense, felt the presence of her absence. It’s a big void that I can nearly touch, and it is an abyss into which I have occasionally stumbled. I have felt it strongly. In fact, just hours ago, when I entered the school library, there it was. My mind drifted to my mother as I walked by the endless stacks of books. She loved books. And I realized that she wasn’t here, nor was she there at home. She wasn’t sitting in her chair reading a book on healing prayer, or faithfully reciting Psalm 91 from her Bible. She wasn’t sipping from a big frosted glass of iced tea, nor was she chatting with her sister. My mind turned to the grave and to the dirt.
As I left the library, it occurred to me how palpably I had felt this void. It was a disturbing presence–her absence. But my mother was always keen on exorcising such disturbing presences. So, I’ve reflect on this paradox for a moment and have decided to turn it on its head. For the death of my mother entails the absurdity that the absence of her presence could become the presence of her absence—an absence that can transmute itself into a presence, a presence-that-is-not-a-presence. And yet, it is as truly felt as any sensation I have ever felt. But that paradox, that absurdity, can only lead me to conclude that death is itself an absurdity—a contradiction that dares to entail further contradictions. My existential experience of her absence (her death) leads me to the reductio ad absurdum of death itself. And so with all reductios, and as any good logician should do, I must reject the premise. Though my mother is dead, she yet lives. Because absences and presences are rectified in the Christian mystery–the beautiful promise that declares: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6-8).
So I trust in this promise, and dispel the presence of my mother’s absence to the foot of the cross. Because there, “…Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
I love you mom! I can’t hear you, but I know.