Katy Mena-Berkley, is a professional writer based in Chattanooga, Tenn. She earned her BFA in fabric design from the University of Georgia and launched her writing career with a fashion column in a local alternative newspaper. Katy’s interests in fashion and foreign culture then led her to Florence, Italy, where she interned as a contributing writer for textile publication La Spola. Since returning stateside, she has worked in reporting, editing and copywriting.
January 6 marked the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Right after Christmas, in the wake of the New Year, on Epiphany, one of the holiest days on the Orthodox calendar—my mother had died, and I had somehow survived.
By no means has life seemed normal since then. Every day is different, a new reality in a world where I can’t pick up the phone to call her every two hours. But I do pick up a pen and write her a letter every night.
I’ve worked diligently to honor her memory by staying positive and joyful, pushing through those moments when I don’t want to get out of bed, those hours when I can’t imagine a future without her.
I go to work, to school, to yoga, to Church, moving through the tasks and activities that I know should bring me certain accomplishment and peace. And they do, for the most part. But almost every experience is altered somehow, either on mute or at an unmanageable volume. So I’ve learned to treasure the times when I find my balance.
Losing one of the strongest anchors in my life woke up an astonishing sense of insecurity I had never known, a very basic feeling to which humans should be present with every breath. This life is temporary. These bodies will die. And life as we know it will end in a heartbeat. The challenge is to stay strong and joyful in the expectation of the unknown, to accept every heartbreak with grace and optimism, and to celebrate every blessing with our entire being.
This year, God has called on me to embrace these extremes on more than one occasion. I’ve grieved. I’ve traveled. I’ve sat through some really bad movies. Wonderful family and friends have surrounded me. I helped accomplish a goal that was years in the making, and we enjoyed a holiday season that was blessed with comfort and calm.
Mom’s one-year memorial service was on January 4, the Sunday before Epiphany. We held a luncheon in the Church hall after the service, complete with koliva, paximathia, and several of her nearest and dearest friends.
I was staying strong, wearing heels, and working hard to channel Mom’s positivity as I chatted with the friends we have come to know as family. But the countless condolences were taking a toll.
“I know this is hard.”
“We all loved her.”
“How sad you and your family must be right now.”
But I actually felt okay. Mom has been gone from this life for one year, and an official marking of the day wasn’t going to change anything. I still miss her; I still talk to her; and I still feel her presence. Then I started to feel almost guilty for not being depressed.
My emotions didn’t change on the actual anniversary of her death. I woke up, said a prayer for Epiphany, and then went to work like I would any other day. I was aware that it was the one-year anniversary, and I kept preparing myself for some paralyzing emotion.
Instead, I encountered steady waves of gratefulness for what I encountered throughout the day. Floods of Facebook messages, Greek cookies from a colleague, and a conversation with one of my favorite coworkers who lost his father the same day that Mom passed away—all of these experiences served as reminders that I was not alone.
The morning of Mom’s funeral, two glorious rainbows stretched high across the sky over Lookout Mountain, reaching all the way to Signal Mountain—specifically ending in my family’s backyard. I heard about these miracles via text message and on social media, in photographs from family and friends who had been awake so early in the day. And those documentations of Mom’s presence through God’s glory are some of my most treasured possessions today, framed mementos that we are already immersed in life eternal.
As I was driving home from work on the day of the one-year anniversary, I was thinking about how I missed the rainbows the day of the funeral. I’d somehow not seen them in person, and that was okay. But how I wished Mom would send me a sign at that moment, something tangible to confirm what I know to be true. She is dancing in Heaven, resting in Christ, and rejoicing with loved ones who departed before her.
The moment I accepted it would all have to be taken on faith, I turned my steering wheel slightly to hug the curves of the highway, noticing an orange glow where those rainbows had been just one year earlier.
The light was divided into three distinct bands, equidistant and radiant over the mountains and the early evening traffic.
A song that was popular when I was a teenager started playing on the radio, orchestral and comforting in its familiarity. Images of Mom picking me up from ballet, offering advice to ease my latest drama, and getting glamorous for a night out with the man she adores burned through my brain. And I started to cry harder than I had in months. A year had passed, and Mom was still sending me gifts.
I know that as human beings, we have a tendency to take experiences like this for granted, or to selfishly think that they were intended just for us. But at that moment, I knew those beams of light were, in fact, meant for me.
They were still brilliant as I pulled my car into the parking lot at the yoga studio, and I tried to mentally record the scene as I raced to make it to my class on time. Why hadn’t I tried to take my own photo? Then I knew what I had to do.
I put down my mat, borrowed a phone from a friend, and raced outside to take my picture. I know that no photo could capture the elation I felt at that moment, but I had to do something to mark that particular passage of time.
When we are blessed to stop and see those flashes of eternity, that is a gift. That is what makes those moments ours. All we have to do is accept the mystery.
Efharisto, Manoula mou, for teaching me to understand. May your memory be eternal.
“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so, then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”—Romans 14: 7–8
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