To My Readers: A mother’s love knows no bounds. Her spirit transcends earthly dimensions. This story about my friend Connie Raffa and her mother, Miriam Willis, had to be told. It is a testament to God’s mysterious and loving ways here on earth.
Connie was cleaning her mom’s house for the last time. It was the kind of cleaning that is an undoing, a systematic removal of physical evidence of a life lived. Since that fateful day, grief had been her constant companion. Now her life was divided into two periods: a Time-Before, and the Time-After mom died. In the time before, she and her mother had plans. They loved to visit gardens, art festivals and to go antiquing in scenic towns, places that time had forgotten. After Connie’s retirement, they would have all the time in the world to leisurely explore quaint little hamlets. But time was not on their side. A call from the hospital changed everything. Even the ringtone sounded urgent and foreboding, starting a course of events that Connie could not have predicted. The voice on the phone said to come to the hospital, quickly. Her mom may not survive the night. Connie arrived in time to be with her mom, to sit with her as she drew her last breath. Then began the Time-After, when Connie’s own heartbeat drummed hollow inside her, each lub-dub echoing a new reality, a life without her mother. The planned outings that would never be turned into shadowy outlines, fading into an unreachable fog. She wondered if a person could die from so much heartbreak, so much loss.
A Cradled Heart
A solemn numbness invaded Connie’s life over the next few weeks. Condolences from family and friends offered loving support, somewhat dulling the pain. But grief is like a space that wraps around you and invades your life. It bookends your days with a harsh stabbing reminder each morning and a heavy tired heart at night. And then came the reality of her mom’s apartment, going through everything, each item a piercing memory, until finally, it was all undone.
It took two weekends. With just a few more boxes to load from her mom’s now empty home, Connie was about to take her last step out the door. Plastic bags holding a variety of forgotten items, hung from each arm. She turned around for one last look. Her teary eyes surveyed the bare rooms, absent of furniture and the personal things that, put together, create a home. Yet the hollowed-out apartment harbored a presence she slowly began to acknowledge. Throughout the ordeal, she felt a loving essence that sustained her, a presence that seemed to cradle her aching heart. And now, that loving spirit gave her a little nudge. It took the form of a sudden and unexplained urge to put everything down, take out her cellphone and take a picture; not of the house or the garden or any room, but of a window. It was a nondescript window with lace curtains that looked onto a nearby pasture. I must have left the window open she thought to herself. A slight breeze floated into the room and the lacey curtain waved a bit, as if to punctuate her final departure with a soft goodbye. A click later and that window was preserved in a photo, and just as quickly, forgotten.
Connie was looking for a way to step out of her grief, call it a sign, or something that would let her know her mom was in a good place. She didn’t know she already had it. While sharing photos with a friend, the picture of the window slid into view. To Connie it was still just a window, but her friend said, “Look again, Connie.”
See looked. Utterly surprised, she blurted out, “How did I not see that?” There, in plain sight was an arrow pointing upward. It was green and radiated light. Like a light in a dark storm, it beckoned to her, a beacon of hope. It felt like a gateway, a portal. And that was when grief loosened its tight grip and set her soul free. Aloud she whispered, “Thank you Mom”.
Windows: The Continuity of Upward
Connie’s story compelled me to think more about spiritual symbols, colors and their meanings. Colors are mentioned in the old and new testaments hundreds of times. I also looked to artists as well as writers. I discovered that green in the universal color of new life, rebirth, and immortality. Then I found a commonality regarding windows as a metaphor. A window is a portal for new perspectives, for thoughts and the soul to move freely, breaking down boundaries. The upward arrow signifies continuity.
I think about the beautiful windows adorning the small church in my hometown. Each one was a beautiful work of art, yet I was always drawn to another window—the one I sat by every Sunday, an opened one.