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 talked to my mommy many times the day that she died.
I called her in the morning. We spoke after lunch. I even saw her that afternoon, in and out of her bedroom for a few moments as I was breezing through my Monday errands.
She asked me to stay and watch a movie. And how I wish that I had.
Instead, we decided to rain check for the next afternoon, and I started to head out the door. But for some reason, I found myself at her bedside just a moment later, staring at my mom for no apparent reason.
“What is it, baby doll?” she said.
She was wearing a pretty light pink top. Her hair and makeup was beautifully done, as always, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
“I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.”
That was the last time I would talk to her in person.
Mom called me later that evening about 8:15. She just wanted to check in, tell me she was going to church the next day, and ask me how my dogs were doing. It felt so normal. But for some reason, when I hung up I wanted to call her back immediately.
“What is it, baby?” she said again.
“I want to spend the afternoon with you tomorrow.”
Mom was planning to go to work with my dad the next day and sit in his office while he saw patients. I asked if he had Wi-Fi. I would go and sit with her and do work, just be together.
“You don’t have to do that,” she said.
“But I want to.”
“Okay. Great! I love you!” And those were the last words I would ever hear from my mama.
Two hours later my phone rang again. It was my brother.
“Katy,” he said, breathless and panicked. “I think Mom just died.”
I didn’t believe it. Still don’t.
I put on my coat over my pajamas. My husband, Joey, and I ran to the car and drove to my parents’ house. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, wondering, praying that there had been some kind of mistake.
We pulled up in front of the house, welcomed by the glow of police cars and an ambulance.
“Stay in the car for a moment,” Joe said. “I don’t know if you’re prepared to see what might be inside.”
I was still thinking she had just had some sort of accident, that something had happened that could be fixed at the hospital in the next hour or two.
“Katy, I’m sorry,” Joe said when he came back to the car five minutes later.
I remember walking, trembling, through the snow in my parents yard that night. Such a surreal experience. There was snow on the ground and my mommy had died.
Dad said it must have been a pulmonary embolism. Nothing else could move so fast, kill so quickly. One minute my parents were watching the Auburn game in their bed. Five minutes later, Mom was dying in Dad’s arms.
We all tried to call my sister, Alexia, who is living in Singapore with her husband, Kevin. Unable to reach her, we called Kevin and decided he would tell her when she got home from her first day of work.
She called us first. Having seen so many missed calls from home, she knew something had happened. And I told her the news over the phone.
“Ali, Mom died a few hours ago.”
The screams on the other end of the phone sounded exactly as I felt inside. It physically hurt to hear them, and I passed the phone to my husband.
The next two hours were like a bad dream. Our priest and his wife stayed for a while. I made mindless conversation with the police officers as the paramedics prepared to carry my mom downstairs. And finally they took her outside to the ambulance.
It was crazy. It was painful. But it had all really happened. My mommy, my best friend, my soul mate had passed away.
The flood of family and friends during the next few days were the only respite from the agony we were all feeling. The visitation was the largest the funeral director had ever seen. More than 600 people had waited in line for five hours to pay their respects to this wonderful, beautiful, exquisitely vibrant woman I call my mother. I can still hear her laughter, infectious and sparkling, when I close my eyes. And she has been sending me messages for days in some way, shape or form.
Precious moments with my goddaughter; support from her friends and closest cousins; her favorite movie playing on TV as I got ready for bed last night—these have all been gifts from my mom.
I know that through Christ, we will live life eternal together one day very soon. And I am working hard to let my faith and those gifts carry me through to that day.
I was always telling Mom that I didn’t know how I would live if she passed away, and she would tell me one of her own stories of loss. My grandmother, my yiayia Katerina, had died when Mom was 33 years old, just one year older than I am right now. She said she had asked God to take her instead. Of course, He chose to keep her here on Earth a little while longer.
And what a life she lived. Mom did everything with grace, love and passion, raising her family, supporting her community and lighting up rooms with her dazzling laughter. She lived with multiple sclerosis for 35 years, smiling through the pain that kept her awake almost every night. She showed me how to live in spite of great loss, and her example is what I must lean on today.
Always a woman of faith, my mother devoted all of her time to studying the Bible and Orthodox spiritual readings. She was tirelessly devoted to finishing her Bible study and was always giving friends and family copies of “Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth.” How fitting that she would pass away from this world on one of the holiest days of the Orthodox year, the Feast of Epiphany. The Feast of Lights. It is the day that Orthodox Christians celebrate the three miracles that manifest Christ’s divinity and communion with this world.
Mom lived to celebrate these events of Christ’s life on Earth—His Birth, His Baptism and the appearance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The last time I spoke with her, she was talking about how she had to go to Church the next day. It was supposed to snow. The heat in our Church was not working. But she would be there no matter what. And I know that she was.
My priest came to bless our house this evening. He and his wife stayed for dinner, and we were sharing stories about Mom. They said they told His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas the news. And in response he said, “How beautiful that she was concentrating on the services.”
That’s my mommy.
I know she is at peace now with Christ, celebrating with her mother, her father and her baby brother, Chris. And I can’t wait to see her again. But until then, I must love her the best way I know how, through prayer, through love and through the way that I live.
I adore you, Mommy. May your memory be eternal.
“Give rest, O God, to Your servant, and place her in Paradise where the choirs of the Saints and the righteous will shine as the stars of heaven.” – Trisagion Memorial Service