During a recent conversation with a 10-year-old, he let me know he’d spent the weekend at his cousin’s. When I asked if the two got along, the boy replied, “Well, no. He’s a butthole.”
That turn of phrase is the perfect descriptor for my current feelings about mortality. Mortality, you are a total butthole. In January, you took my Gaga. In May, you took my Libby. And in November, you (literally) messed with my mother’s head.
Two days before Thanksgiving, while mortality busily maneuvered a blood clot towards my mom’s brain, I asked my husband to take this photo:
We were vacationing on the Georgia coast, and I knew Mom would love the image, as she always says I’m not really on vacation until she sees a picture of me in a tree. Before I had the chance to show it to her, however, I got a call from my sister.
“Hello, Sister!” I answered cheerily. “How are you?”
“Um, I’m okay,” she said, but her tone was strained. I held my breath in anticipation of what would come next. “I need to tell you that Mom had a stroke.”
While awaiting post-surgery news with phone in hand, tears streaming down my face, I scrolled through saved texts, emails, voicemails, and photos from Mom. Just like that, the emotions associated with her contacts had shifted entirely. The same images that would have brought a smile to my face before my sister’s call now filled me with bitterness and heartache.
Twenty minutes later, I received word from Dad that Mom was out of surgery, wiggling her toes, talking, and laughing. The next day, I sent her this photo of my husband, taken that morning:
She sent back a series of happy faces and hearts.
Due to an amazing set of circumstances that some would call blessings and others would call luck, only two hours passed between my sister’s 911 call and the blood clot’s evacuation. Four days later, sitting with both of my parents in their car on our way to their home in Florida, I snapped this photo to share with Mom’s many admirers:
All crises leave lessons in their wake. From this one, I’ve been reminded that Mortality the Butthole does not mess around. It tears loved ones away without warning or apology. Even if no words are left unsaid, hugs withheld, or moments unsavored, the loss will hurt like hell. I suppose all we can do is recognize and cherish the precious, finite time we have with each other and let that be enough. Attachment inevitably leads to suffering, and I choose to attach. Grief is just part of the deal.
And my final, lingering lesson from the recent crisis is this: referring to mortality as a butthole kind of helps. I recommend it.