Growing up as the son of a pastor, I learned to filter my emotions; how to respond to things.. to people. It becomes second nature to create a persona that is likable and attractive to everyone. The following is pure and unfiltered “Dallas,” consisting of sensitive thoughts and material I have never told anyone before. I am letting you enter my world:
“NOOO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOO!”
The room was spinning. I clung to my uncle and Mema and everything around me, hopelessly looking around the living room for some kind of sign. Searching the faces of my brothers, my eyes asked theirs if this could be true. The deepest groanings and darkest places of the universe cannot communicate the grief.
After school on Wednesday December 10, 2008 we were picked up by our Mema, which usually meant that it must have been a bad day for Mom. “Your mom called me last night because she was sick. We put her in the hospital, so we are going to visit her and then I can take you to the church for service.” Mom always went to Moffitt in Tampa for chemo but never to the hospital in Port Charlotte. I had a lot of bad memories at that hospital as a kid, so I was already upset. Still unsure of what was happening, my brothers and I (with Mema) walked into the first floor of Peace River Hospital. Mom’s room was the first to the left. She had tubes in her nose and many other places. It didn’t seem normal.. not even for a cancer patient. “Hi guys!” Mom forced a smile out of her obvious discomfort. We circled her and talked just like any other day of the week. She sat up from her hospital bed to adjust and I briefly saw her back, which was covered in red. This wasn’t “normal.”
“It’s an infection” she said.
“You need to go to Moffitt… Moffitt, not here. They know you there. They can take care of you” I gently suggested. For some reason I did not understand at the time, that option was not possible. She was going to stay there for the night. Before leaving and going to church my Mema prayed for Mom and I held her arm. Warm, as always. Afterwards, Mom said the words she had echoed over and over throughout our entire lives, only this time it had the most culminating and desperate tone:
“My boys are my world. You are the reason I breathe. Connor, Dallas and Reagan.. listen to me.. always remember one thing: Never lose faith in God. Believe in Him and follow Him every day.”
We then headed to church and at that Wednesday night service I brought up Mom as a prayer request. The night went on as usual until it was time for bed. It was just me and my brothers at home and I didn’t know how to send my brothers to sleep. “Do I pray? Do I just let them go to bed?..” I got a text from my good friend, Ben. He told me to tell my brothers I love them and let them know we are in this together. I did just that, though unsure of what the morning would hold. I then went to my room and knelt down on my bed with my Bible. I flipped around reading some of Psalms and Isaiah and probably several others. It was quiet. I always liked the air still with no noise.. just me before God. “Please Lord, heal my Mom. Heal her HERE. Not in Heaven.. heal here HERE on EARTH. We need her.” My eyes shut.
“Dallas..” a delicate hand brushed my shoulder. It was about 6:30 am on December 11, 2008. I thought Mema was waking us up for school, but as I walked into the living I saw my uncle and aunt. I was nervous. Connor and Reagan completed our circle in the living room.
“NOOO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOO!”
The words spoken before my haunting screams are irrelevant. Our worst fears, fears I never even truly believed would happen, came true. No more Mom.
An hour of frantic wails and stumbling into Mom’s room to see if she was there. Two hours? Three?.. Time ceased to exist.
I stared out of the dining room window. Who knows how long or when. It was so dark outside. Rainy. The lake behind our house was like a black hole sucking the darkness of the sky into its grievous depths.
Knock on the door. It was our Pastor who Mom loved so much. He spent a good deal of time with us and took us to breakfast. Later a kind woman from church took us to a movie. “Four Christmases” with Reese Witherspoon.. I liked it. Then people started coming in waves to our house. So many people.. bringing food. Baskets, bowls, salads, ham, steaks, Olive Garden, cakes. I could not count the food.
Text after text. Phone call after phone call. So many people. Family came in from everywhere and they were so comforting to me. But one thing I could not stop doing: moving my eyes back to Mom’s bedroom door, just waiting for her to walk out; even as a ghost. “WHY ARE YOU GONE?” I thought over and over.
Four blurry days went by. All I remember is so many people invited me and my brothers to live with them. Even my Port Charlotte High School principle, who I am still so grateful for. Somewhere in those four days my family went to a funeral home. They had “prepared” my Mom’s body and we were going to look at her.
I let my Mema and uncle and aunt go first. Then Connor and Reagan. I couldn’t muster up whatever it was I needed to see her. Finally, I pulled myself inside that room. A pink casket sat at the front of a long chapel. I walked passed the pews slowly until I stood 10 feet from my Mom. Was she real? Would her eyes open? Could she in any way hear me? I sat there on my knees for what seemed to be a long time. My mind was in shock until the funeral.
December 15, 2008 – the day before my Mom would be 50 years old. Also, the day of her funeral. The viewing took place an hour before the funeral; people came pouring in like an avalanche. A multitude of grieving words and enough condolences to write an epic. Finally the time was coming to start service and shut my Mom’s pink coffin. It was just the family in that small entry room. We said our final goodbyes to the body of the woman that birthed and raised me and my two brothers. I could not let them close that coffin! Do not take me from my Mother! I hesitated to touch her skin one last time, out of fear that her ever-warm skin would finally feel cold. Instead, I brushed her familiar black hair with my two fingers. “It’s just a shell” my cousin said to me. Those are the only words that kept me calm enough to finally let them close that pink coffin.
The parade of tears into the sanctuary began. I held a brother in each arm as we slowly marched to the front row. It’s said it was a beautiful service: Connor spoke then I spoke. Like a zombie on the stage, I read great words but did not comprehend their meaning. Numbness. Staring into the crowd, the largest funeral crowd I have personally seen, I saw faces of those who were truly in pain over the loss of Miss Cindy. Mother, teacher, compassionate friend, fighter, lover, joyous singer. Her voice rang over the crowd “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”
A long drive later we laid her body next to my Papa Alvin. “Cindy L. Maginn – 1958-2008,” a rose and sparrow on her stone.
It was not until that moment that I realized I would never see her again. Not how I know her.
6 Years Later
If you would have told me at 16 years old that I would be living in Missouri right now, I probably would have said “what is Missouri?” In six years I have met so many people and been so many places. I’ve worked on farms in Indiana, counseled 12 year-olds in North Carolina, nailed tar paper in Missouri, mopped floors in Sarasota. I’ve climbed waterfalls, skied the Rocky’s, jumped on trains (oops), walked the Golden Gate bridge and many many more things.
I often wonder “if Mom had not died, would I have done all of those things? Would I have met the people I now call family and friends?” Then I wonder “of course, I could have. God is bigger than one circumstance.” I’ll probably never know the answer, but here I am.
Although I may be an exciting person around friends and family, I live quietly. I dream and I doubt, I think and I question.. and in those moments of solitude I realize something: my life is not what I dreamt as a child. This is no pity party, this is me understanding the implications of not having a mother for the rest of my life.
Every woman dreams of their wedding day; all of the fluff and emotions, having a family, etc. It is not commonly said, but men dream of the same thing. Maybe not the flowers and make up, but the relationships and adventures. About a year ago I asked myself what my “dream” is. It wasn’t being an actor, like it used to be. It wasn’t even a career path.. it was having a family of my own. Thinking more intently about this dream, I realized: my family will never know my Mother. My wife will not know the woman who trained me and raised me to love her unconditionally. She will not know the woman who prayed for me through trouble. She will not know the woman who bore my burdens; whose blood I was given. My children will only hear stories of my Mother. They will only see pictures.
“Why was I given this lot?” I frequently ask God.
Perhaps it’s because God is able to do immeasurably more than I can ask or think and somehow He has made me strong enough. Perhaps somehow when I am 100 years old, I will realize “this is what brought me closer to Christ and stronger in Spirit than I could ever imagine – the loss of my Mom has brought indestructible perseverance, unattainable resilience.. wisdom as deep as the oceans.”
There are times of weakness where I wish the world would end and I finally could see the Glory of Heaven. Words cannot describe how infinitely joyous that reunion will be. But as for now I walk the narrow road with its twists and turns, working for the Good and looking beyond this decaying world.
This is the song I sing and the Hope I have.. and this is how I continue to love my Mom, making her proud:
“These are they who have come
Out of great tribulation;
They have washed their robes
In the blood of the Lamb,
They have gone through much sorrow
Into great jubilation,
They’re redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Like a strong, mighty army
Their voices are ringing;
The great cloud of witnesses
Sings freedom’s song
As they enter the country
Built by their own Father,
The promised homeland
They’ve looked for so long.
And all the pilgrims and all the strangers
Will be no longer strangers;
All the tired and the weary wanderers,
They will wander no more;
The table is spread for the great celebration,
And the ‘Welcome Home’ banner
Flies over the door.” These Are They – Gaither Vocal Band
Ovarian Cancer could not kill you. Sepsis could not eat your soul. You have defeated death. You have conquered our fears. You are more Alive than we.
Until we meet again, my Most Lovely Mother Cindy Laree