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.
I’ve been writing my mom letters every night before bed. I tell her about my day, tell her how much I miss her and ask her to please, please come visit me in a dream.
I fall asleep with the hope that I might see her when I’m asleep, have a chance to talk about where she is, how she’s doing, and when I will see her again.
It has been almost two months since her passing on January 6, and it still doesn’t feel real. I keep waiting for her to walk through the door. I have the urge to call her several times a day. And I lose my breath when I realize she is really gone from this world.
I’ve been trying to reconcile what the Orthodox faith teaches about death with my own personal experience and belief that my mother is closer to me now than she has ever been before.
St. Theophan states in one of his writings that during the first few days after a loved one has passed, he or she will be right with you.
St. John Maximovich, one of my mother’s favorites, writes that on the third day, the soul of the departed must pass through legions of evil spirits before foretasting the eternal joy and blessedness that awaits all who believe in Christ.
The battle lasts for 37 days, with the soul passing through spheres of heaven and hell. Prayers from those on earth can offer comfort and strength and frequent celebrations of the Eucharist are critical.
I’ve been praying for my mother of course, but I’ve also been asking her to pray for me, to intercede that Christ may grant me the peace I need to live life without her visible presence.
I’ve been reading a book called Proof of Life. Written by an Episcopalian neurologist who lived through a near-death experience, it describes exactly the kind of journey that St. John explains.
I was reading the section of the book about demonic encounters while traveling back from my mom’s 40-day memorial, her mnemósynon, in Illinois. The text was scary and uncomfortable, and I prayed that this Episcopalian just didn’t know what he was talking about. I prayed that Mom didn’t have to endure the same journey he described.
I know that she was concentrating on Christ and church the next morning when she died. Surely she would be spared such a terrifying experience. I prayed, I hoped, I almost hyperventilated.
And then the song came on the radio.
Mom had developed an abiding affection for the song “You’re the One” by the Vogues about 20 years ago. She bought the CD and played it over and over for the rest of her life, knowing that it would always cheer her up on down days or help her celebrate the good stuff. We played it at the visitation with slide shows of Mom looking so glorious and in love with her husband, her children, her friends, her faith, and her life.
And it came on the radio just when I needed it the most.
“Turn it up, Aunt Becky!” I said to my aunt as she drove us through the snow down the Illinois highway. “This is Mom’s song!”
I sat there and cried and sang along, shocked that the song, which I have almost NEVER heard on the radio, was pulsing through the speakers.
It had been more than 40 days since Mom had passed, but I know she was and is still with me.
I called my dad a few hours later to tell him what happened.
“I think it might have been her,” I said.
“Katy, you’re smarter than that. YEAH, it was her,” he said. “You’ve been praying for a dream. She sent a song. Congratulations.”
I did dream a few weeks ago that I was on the phone with Mom, and I was crying in the car.
“I just miss you so much,” I said to her. “I just want to talk to you.”
“Why do you miss me?” Mom replied. “You can still talk to me.”
She said it so calmly, with confidence. And I know that she has not left my side.
I was asking my priest about whether there is communication between the living and the dead. What were the formal teachings of the Church?
He told me that Orthodox writings state that the dead are in one place and we live in another. And that’s it for now.
Then he said, “But you never know. It’s all a mystery.”
I was reading through texts that Mom sent me in December, one in particular that she sent on a day I needed encouragement about some silly situation in life, something that won’t matter in 30, 40, 50 years.
“Have faith my love. Ola kala. It WILL be fine. Don’t ask how. It will be a mystery! Filakia polla.”
That was her message to me. And it’s what I will remember whenever I struggle with my faith, my truth, and my prayers for the future. The 40 days are over, but I know that Mom and her love always surround me. The song was just an awe-inspiring reminder that Christ promises us eternal life through love, always.
I miss you, Manoula. May her memory be eternal.