As 2018 comes to a close I lack closure. I am unsteady. I wobble with the events of the year almost as if I am drunk, incapable of walking a straight line into 2019. The year began with a lifetime high learning adventure with my family and horses in Wellington, Florida as we were experiencing dressage in the world capital for four months. During our short stay, Craig’s mom, Gloria’s, cancer took a critical turn to where we face the ultimate reality of her body declaring it’s end on this earth was fast approaching. Within days of turning fifty, I became a grandmother myself in March and my life was transformed by the love for the child of my child. My heart bonded with Gloria in a new way and I longed to sit with her and talk about what it means to be a grandmother. I set her high as the great example of always persevering in her love for our five children through the years. I wondered if I could be as good a grandmother for the next generation as she was for our kids. I doubted myself next to her shiny presence. Memories of her arriving with open arms twice a year eager to get on the floor with them and meet them as they are, where they are and just marvel at their uniqueness is how I will remember her best.
She was a role model for me in most of my life as I grew to become a wife, mother, home maker, Christian and finally grandmother. I ached and pained as I faced the rest of my life without her. I drew inwards. I feared her dying because of the unbelievable pain it would cause in me. I wasn’t sure how to look her death in the eye. I lacked courage for this pain.
In May Craig accepted a new job with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. We were moving our family within weeks of this decision. In May Gloria moved to hospice. I transported Jack and his horse to his show where our trainer met them so I could fly to New Jersey to say my final goodbye to her. I was the last one in the family to arrive and I got to spend twenty-four hours with her in her final hours. She was radiant as she anticipated going to be with Jesus. I couldn’t get over her peace and joy as she prepared to go into her eternal life. We were all sad but simultaneously dumb founded by her beauty. Her room had a lovely view of the hills over a horse farm. When I stepped outside I distinctly remember the sensations of nature, the physical existence overwhelming me entirely. I could hear the birds in amplified sound. I could feel the wind as if it were a great hand touching me. I could smell the earth all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I shivered in the fullness of my senses. The sky appeared enormous. I felt God’s presence there. I knew he was enveloping her with love and peace and joy. I felt in my bones how her going home to him was greater than any experience on this earth. I was a witness to the transfer of her to Him in a spiritual way and though I was dripping tears and sobbing from my swollen heart I also felt pure awe. We don’t get out of here alive and if there is a way to go I want to again have her as my role model for leaving this earth.
In May I flew to North Carolina to find our family a new home where we could live with our horses at a fair distance from Craig’s new office.
In May we flew to New Jersey to celebrate the life of Gloria LaTorre after she went to her eternal home with God. When I sat alone with my God and felt her loss in my life I had an urge to share an important story I alone knew about her. I did understand it was God poking my shoulder a little bit suggesting I ought to share what I knew about her. I thought yes God I will obey you, and then at no time was I asked if I had something to say so I never stepped forward. It was my first funeral in my life and I was an emotional mess. At her memorial service I wanted to share a piece of her life I alone knew, but I lacked the courage to do it.
In June we sold our home and prepared to move. In July Craig returned to work in his new position with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. In August we packed up our lives in Texas and drove across the country for three days to begin a new life on our farm in North Carolina. Within days Kira began attending a new school where she had to make new friends.
The day I arrived in North Carolina to meet Craig his father had a stroke and went to the hospital. We moved into our house the next day. I took Kevin to Ireland for a week to help him move into his new semester in Ireland as a student. I have moved twelve times in my marriage and every time Craig’s mom was my cheerleader. She was the one who celebrated with us as we discovered our new hometown. She loved seeing what we did with our new houses and encouraged me so much in the difficulties of moving a family. I was alone this move.
In September hurricane Florence visited us preventing our horses from moving to North Carolina as planned. In October, hurricane Michael barreled through our farm. And then the rains came to stay for months, even now they have not left us.
Meanwhile our seventeen-year-old Jack struggled to make North Carolina home though all of his friends were in Texas. He experienced despair and loss. I gave a lot of hugs. My mama’s heart was heavy for him.
I had never worked so physically hard in my life once the horses arrived on our farm. It was a consuming busy with the move and the transition from suburbanites to horse farm owners.
In November Craig’s father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. This arrested our lives and held us captive to experience again the fullness of losing mom not so long ago. My husband felt lost like an orphan facing the second half of his life. The service for his father was the greatest sadness because we never had the wonderful good-byes and last words we savored with mom. His passing over to her caused us all to feel her absence again with greater intensity. They are gone. A generation ended. This thrusts us at a young fifty into the leadership of the family and generations to come. We fee ill-equipped to guide and lead as they always have done for us. It is such a sensation of being lost and unprepared, left behind, and speechless. Downcast. Alone. Wondering.
Two of my cats are grooming each other in a chair as I write. Their care for one another and companionship is the simplicity of living I hope for until I pass over to be with God for eternity. I don’t want to be alone here and that’s how I find peace understanding that Dad didn’t want to be here without mom. I get it. I hope I go first. Craig hopes he goes first. Unfortunately for our kids, if we can go together that would be the best.
So here I am at the end of December. There wasn’t a gift check from dad in his signature scribble penmanship. We didn’t receive our “rent check” from them as they had put their houses in our names for tax purposes and wrote us a funny rent check at Christmas in Dad’s scribbly scrawl. Kira and I unpacked the book they gave her a few years ago where they recorded their voices reading to her “The Night Before Christmas”. I was trembling as I changed the batteries in this book because I was so excited to hear their voices again. I thought the greatest treasure of all was here in my hands. In despair, we experienced the failure of the battery having corroded and erasing their voices. It didn’t work. I couldn’t resurrect their voices. I sobbed uncontrollably. Their presence and voices at Christmas were gone. Their absence was loud in its silence. I long for them. I regret not making them fantastically important in our everyday lives. I regret so much and that feels terrible.
As I stagger unsteady at the end of 2018 I wonder if I say now what I ought to have shared about Mom at her memorial if I will have peace with their departure. Maybe. Here it is.
I was an oddity of a person to mom most of my life with her. I know she scratched her head and wondered what makes this girl tick. But when we decided to adopt Kira she at long last could see my heart and loved me anew as we journeyed to Uganda to bring home the newest member of the LaTorre family. She was Kira’s best friend from the very beginning. Kira knew her grandma so well and she knew she was loved deeply. It brought her such a wonderful security. When Gloria was seventy-five she asked to join me on a trip to Uganda to visit the children’s home we opened. Her heart was full of love for these children and she wanted to know them. We journeyed from America to Africa together and spent a week in my Ugandan apartment. We couldn’t rely on the water to flow. We had to wash laundry by hand in buckets. We bathed from a bucket. We walked in mud. She was a lady who always appeared in public perfectly dressed so she worried about her hair. We didn’t have a hair dryer that would work with our low electricity but I found her using the fan to dry her hair. She was beaming as she said, this works great! I was really proud of her for being so flexible. She slept on the bottom bunk in a room with Jack and Kira under a mosquito net. We ate simple food. We spent every day loving and teaching the children about God together. She never complained about the conditions and remained positive about the unusual challenges of life in a third world country. She made me so proud and everyone who met her was honored to know she was the mother of “Daddy Craig”, the leader of Kirabo Seeds, our nonprofit to help orphaned children.
One day we were visiting one of the grandmothers of a child in our home. This toddler in a filthy denim overall dress emerged from the bushes. She followed us. She was dirty from head to toe which is so unusual for children in Uganda. There might be dust everywhere, and they might not have a proper house to live in but everyone takes pride in keeping their children exceptionally clean. The fact that this child was so dirty meant something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t long before this little girl was in the arms of Gloria. We inquired about her and learned her father was considered by the locals as insane and she lived with her elderly grandfather in a camp. She spent most of her time alone wandering as she was that day. We asked the local council person of the village if we could take her home and clean her up and feed her and we were granted permission. This child, Rhonah, clung to Gloria for days as we sorted out what was best for the child. By the end of the week Rhonah was a new member of our children’s home and Gloria had vowed to love her and help her grow in our care. Today she is an exceptional child, smart, hard working and secure.
It isn’t often I bring someone to Uganda to do this difficult work of orphan care where by the end of it I feel I would like them to return with me again. I begged Craig’s mom to return with me some day and she said she would love to have the opportunity.
That never came to be. Ovarian cancer abruptly altered the path of her life. The memories we made together in Uganda were a once in a life time opportunity. I am so thankful as her daughter-in-law I was able to escort her on this journey to Uganda where she helped us welcome a child to our home. It was a beautiful bonding experience between us. For all the ways, I was a mystery to her I believe on that trip she was able to connect with me about what was truly important in life. We shared a secret bond. I saw her blow dry her hair with a fan and a smile on her face. I saw her rescue an orphaned child and change her life forever. I saw her love people she didn’t know because God was in her loving them through her.
I miss you Gloria. There is a great chasm in my life you emptied when you went home to be with God. I have to live with that emptiness. I don’t know how to do that and it causes me to walk forward like I’m drunk, unsteady, altered.
It’s hours before 2019 rings into our lives. I need a solid ground to walk on this year. I need it. I am a new grandmother. I walk alone in unchartered grounds with my life. I wish they could see our new home. She said to me before she died, “I want to see you riding your horse on your property with a great smile on your face.” This has come true. I hope somehow she can see it. I hope somehow this new year gives us courage and strength to go forward without Don and Gloria. For now, I still feel the shock of their absence. The grief of missing their voices on the phone, the arrival of their visit. I hope the new year brings balm and salve. I hope God will carry me in his mighty hand with a steadiness as he sets me on the new solid ground of 2019 where I take steady steps forward without the ever present “hoo-rah” cheers from mom and dad. We enter 2019 without our earthly parents and for a seriously real and sobering sense of need we anticipate God the father showing us the way forward. Please God guide our steps and fill our emptiness.