54 years ago today, my mom was born early and weighed only 5 pounds. Such a small start led to such a huge life. I have been wondering for weeks how I’m supposed to get through this day, her birthday. There have been many moments, especially yesterday, in which I totally understood the term “grief-stricken”, because sometimes her absence and the memories of the end of her life are like a sucker-punch to my gut that leaves me breathless with stinging tears in my eyes. Even though it is my nature to look on the bright side of everything, I do not want to minimize the loss that we all feel now that she’s gone. Her death left a hole that is equal to our love for her and her love for us...that’s big. So today, on her birthday, as I struggle to know what do to with myself, I want to fight the urge to avoid and distract. I want to embrace my loss and celebrate her life.
The things that really hurt now that she’s gone:
My phone. I still pick it up to call her, and I still check to see if she’s texted me. We were truly in constant communication, and sometimes the world seems really quiet without her voice in my life.
My boys. Watching them miss her breaks my heart. Liam can express his thoughts more eloquently, which is a blessing and pierces me at the same time. Sawyer has a harder time understanding, and so there are painful conversations in which he tries to figure out once again why he can’t find Grammie. And as Everett grows, I ache to have her see him.
My family. We are all grappling with her death together and apart, and I constantly wish I could ease their pain. My dad, my brothers and their families, my husband, my gramma and mom's siblings are all feeling the daily impact of our catastrophic loss. Our pain mingles together as we support each other.
My identity. My relationship with my mom was and is a huge part of who I am and how I understood myself to be. Now that she’s gone, I often find myself struggling to know how to act or respond to things.
My faith. In many ways, my faith has grown since my mom died, but there is now a bittersweet aspect to it. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my faith does not protect me from intense pain and heartache. I’ve had to have some awful, wrenching talks with God and have had to learn to trust him in a way that takes painful abandon of understanding and control.
While all of that hurts a lot, I am my mother’s daughter after all, and I cannot let myself dwell there for too long. For one of the greatest gifts my mama gave me was a beautiful, baggage-free mother/daughter relationship. I truly have a lifetime of sweet memories with her that bring me joy and not pain. She loved me unconditionally and fervently every day of my life. And she was an exceptional woman of God who let me learn from her triumphs and her mistakes. So I want to do what I used to do on her birthday cards. I want to celebrate the things I love about my mama.
Christina Runge Wehr could be light-hearted, but she did not take the commitments and the people in her life lightly. When she was in high school, she promised God that she would read her Bible every day. And then she went on to truly read her Bible EVERY DAY! From my earliest memories on, she packed her Bible everywhere with her. I am so thankful for that lesson in commitment to God.
She celebrated the people in her life. My brothers and I were the constant recipients of cards, notes, texts and words of affirmation from our mother. One text she sent me said, “I truly am one of the most blessed moms and grammies ever! I love you all, my extraordinary children and in-laws and grandbabies. You make me RICH!” I got these kind of texts all the time. She thoughts of others before herself, and she never missed a chance to make someone feel special.
Her life was full of music. Ryan used to joke that no matter what subject we were talking about, my mom probably knew a silly camp song about it. And he was right. Growing up, our house was full of songs about riding in the car, taking a bath, ostriches, kangaroos, and cleaning up our toys as well as songs about Jesus and faith as well as songs from all the classic musicals and operas. Mama truly had a song for every occasion.
There are so many things about my mama that I love that it’s hard to even know what to say. She was a unique and lovely woman of God who showed courage, grace and faith through intense struggle. She loved her husband, her children, her grandkids, her family, her friends and her students more than she loved her own life. She also loved Disneyland, camping, hiking, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dean Koontz books, Charlie Brown, the color green, shopping, jewelry, journals, singing on the worship team, salmon, creme brulee, cribbage and poetry. She was not a fan of the coast, going to women’s conferences or lavender (the color or the fragrance). She couldn’t see her phone without her glasses, so she sent her kids really funny texts that were so auto-corrected that they didn’t make sense. She had a hard time forgiving anyone who ever hurt the people she loved and she was forever devoted to the people who helped the people she loved. She loved God with all her heart, and she truly had a very personal relationship with Jesus. She really was one of those people who forever changed people’s lives just by being a part of their story.
I want to end with a thought from an amazing book about loss I’m reading called A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser.
He says, “The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss. Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace and love. What we consider opposites--east and west, night and light, sorrow and joy, weakness and strength, anger and love, despair and hope, death and life--are no more mutually exclusive than winter and sunlight. The soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time.”
Being raised and loved by my mama already stretched my soul. Then being by her side as she valiantly battled cancer, stretched it even more. And now the grief I feel has stretched it painfully further. But the final gift she and God have given me, is that my stretched-out soul truly does have more room and depth to experience all the things mama loved here on earth: family, friends, the outdoors and music...and shopping. Mama would not want me to forget shopping:-)
Happy birthday, Mama! I love you.