Those two words still don’t feel like reality. My mom Kathleen passed away almost precisely 48 hours ago. In the time since I have broken down sobbing dozens of times. And yet I read those two words and I still can’t quite grasp what they mean.
I know the rawness of her loss will linger for a while yet. There will be times when I can’t hold in my grief and I will stop in my tracks and allow my sadness to overwhelm me for a moment. I know that there are going to be moments of sadness that I can’t yet predict, as I go forward in my life and realize all the little things about her that I took for granted. I’ve begun to have some of those. I recently began work on a book. As I started it, before my mom died, I thought how much I was looking forward to reading her passages as I progressed with my writing. As much as I can continue my writing it in her honor, I know I will catch myself looking forward to reading to her in the future tense, to seeing her smile, hearing her laugh, feeling the love of writing that she shared with me.
I know that there will be times in years to come that I will miss her unbearably, in ways that I can’t begin to predict in the present rawness. A wound hurts differently than a scar.
I am more acutely aware than ever how my mom shaped who I am today. Once upon a time, her blog was something I occasionally read with a smile, a space that I let her have to herself to reminisce and reflect on her remarkable life. Now it is precious to me. It is the closest visible link I have to her love of writing and mine. I read her stories here and realize how much I owe to her, as a writer, and most of all, as a person.
My mom loved people and loved their stories. In the aftermath of her death, I have been stunned by the massive outpouring of support and love from so many people around the world. The morning after she died, I was awoken by a bombardment of texts and Facebook messages. Cataloguing every tribute to her, many from people I didn’t know personally, has been a nearly full-time effort. I’m not surprised, of course. I was aware that she kept regular correspondence with old friends, many of whom she joyfully reconnected with on the internet. The stunned feeling stems from the scope of it. I knew she was a remarkable woman. I didn’t realize just how many people knew that as well as I did.
She’s gone. I know that. She lives on in many ways. I think everyone who knew her can agree with that statement no matter what their belief system. As a Catholic, I believe her spirit lives on in a literal sense. As her son, I burn with a need to carry on her legacy of loving people and telling stories. She, herself, blazed a path that traveled the world and connected deeply with more people than I can comprehend. No matter your take on the aftermath of death, if you knew my mom, she lives on with you in some fashion. I can’t believe my mom is gone. Part of that is grief. But part of that is also the knowledge that she lived too fully to ever really leave.
My mom Kathleen, my dad David, and me at my grad school graduation
My mom and me when I was newborn. I had life-threatening health issues as a baby; the joy on her face here reflects that I had just been given an all-clear and could soon go home. She was finishing college at the time and took me with her to her classes. She got me started on my love of learning, reading, and writing at an early age.
She is overcome with excitement at the beauty of the day. She runs into a particularly warm patch of sun. She stops and just basks there for a moment. That’s it. That’s the moment. That’s when I knew Whisper of the Heart was made for me.
Not all movies that I love are made for me. I love many, many movies that weren’t. I love The Godfather because it’s a damn perfect movie. But it’s not made for me. It tells a gripping story with style and humanity and an alternating sense of warmth and brutality and it’s absolutely an all-time favorite of mine… but it wasn’t made for me.
A movie being made for you isn’t a mark of quality, see. It’s more serendipity. Of a director crafting a moment that transports you into your own memories and feelings. You know you’re watching one when it feels like a movie is holding a mirror to your soul.
Whisper of the Heart knows when a sunbeam is the best feeling in the world, or when you feel a bond with someone you haven’t met over a shared love of books, or when a city at night feels cozy and warm, or when a city at day feels like a maze of doubt. I return to it every year, knowing it a bit more every time, and learning a bit more about myself along the way.
Nothing on the screen makes sense. It’s all whispered dialogue coupled with shots of the cosmos. Stars are born. Earth, the planet that contains all of human history, looks like a pinprick against the sun. And then, the movie turns to the story of a family on Earth. The this film is their story, told a stage that consists of all of history and all of the universe. Suddenly the sense of scope is overwhelming, followed by a feeling of total peace. That’s when I knew The Tree of Life was made for me.
As a child was I often overwhelmed by the scope of all things. It was very easy to feel insignificant. But then, isn’t life, and the little pocket of it we have here on Earth, an astonishing thing in itself? These are questions I long put away as I got older. To have them pulled out of me during a movie is something I never expected. But then, you never know how a movie that’s made for you will treat you. It might give you a joyous high, or a deep feeling of introspection, or even despair.
Enough with despair for now; I’ve dealt with enough sadness this year. Besides, when a movie is made for you, the relationship between the events on screen don’t necessarily correlate perfectly with how they make you feel. It’s like when you fall in love; the moment you realize you were made for each other can be surprising and unexpected.
The first time I realized a movie was made for me, I was 16 and falling in love with the movies. I thought I knew what it was to love a movie. I’d seen movies that had thrilled me, made me laugh, made me cry. But I had never seen a movie that rendered me speechless like this one. A girl is watching the sky. A dragon, visible only as a tiny sliver, shimmering in the distance, holds her attention. She stares at it in awe. I’m right there with her. The moment doesn’t stop. It holds her attention, and mine, and I’m suddenly in tears at the beauty of it. Not just at the dragon soaring in the sky. But at the realization of this feeling. This was made for me.