The day I ran away from God was the day I saw the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life.
It was a sunrise in shocking saturation, God bringing it in full-blown technicolor: Vermilion, violet, too perfect to be real, this sunrise came rolling in over the magnolia trees that lined our street, a sublime awakening after a night of no sleeping, the kind of sunrise that can only come when the mind’s unhinged just enough to let in the light.
It was the kind of sunrise where you want to close our eyes and say “OK, God, let this be a sign that even in the darkest hours, there can be miracles.”
I remember the exact day I saw this sunrise, because it was the last sunrise my mother and I would share. She didn’t see it but I whispered it to her while she lay beside me, drawing breath once every 85 seconds.
That was the longest night I had ever known. Waiting for each 85 seconds to pass, I held my breath with her. The room smelled like morphine and GAP Dream that I spritzed on her wrists because even in that never-ending in-between, she would still smile.
The sunrise stretched into morning and so did the spaces between each breath she drew. 86 seconds. 87. 88.
The rabbi called: “You have to let her go,” he told my dad. “She’s won’t leave until you tell her it’s ok to let go.”
We lay in bed with her, my dad and I on either side.
89 seconds between each breath. Then 90.
A week before, when she was still able to sit at her desk and drink coffee and smoke her cigarettes, she would quote that line from Peter Pan:
“To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
Her vein thumped between her left ear and her hairline. Her eyelids fluttered like the wings of a moth.
“You can go now,” my dad whispered to her as the sun streamed in on a day too beautiful for her to die. “You can go now.”
I wouldn’t have believed it unless I had been there, holding her hand, now slack in mine while her face softened as that last breath blew through her and into the morning light.
For days, she had been stuck in limbo between our world and that next ‘big adventure.’ For days, she had laid there in a space in between.
But this, she heard, and she let go and let God.
A scream ripped through the room, too horrible to hear, a keening wail without words, the noise a trapped animal makes while it tries to gnaw its own leg off.
I wanted to shout “shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up,” until I realized that I was the one screaming, my whole body rigid and shaking while people poured in: My aunt, my uncle, the neighbors — but then, the room was really empty because she wasn’t there anymore.
“Bring her back, bring her back,” I screamed at God. “Bring her back, bring her back,” I shivered and shook as the light shifted in the room and the shadows fell across the bed, across the shell of the woman who held the world together for my dad and me.
There were still spaces of light all around us – light rippling from the people who had come to hold us, and comfort us, and somehow soften the stark horror or it all, but I ran from them, I ran far, I ran into a cold, dark space too tight to breathe.
Bring her back bring her back bring her back.
I watched my grandmother shovel dirt on my mother’s grave — the second daughter she would bury in less than 3 years — and the space got even smaller.
I watched my grandfather’s mind turn to mush — confused and frightened when his beloved firstborn stopped visiting him as she had always done — and the space darkened.
I said kaddish by rote, but not by heart.
I lit the Sabbath candles joylessly.
Bring her back bring her back bring her back.
There was no room for God or miracles in that cold, dark space, I thought, as I pulled the walls in closer.
But even then, holed up in darkness, God was still there in the little reminders that would bring my mom back to me. At first, I ignored them on purpose, like a cat who turns its back and stalks away. But just because you choose not to see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Like her favorite Bach concerto floating across the supermarket speakers while I shopped for the Passover meal. (The space got a little brighter.)
Like old friends reaching out to me with stories about who she was before she was my mom. (The space expanded to fit these memories.)
Like my daughter who carries my mom’s name, and my son who carries her smile. (And she is with me, in that space.)
And as I’ve softened to the possibility of miracles, she is all around – I see her in my hands especially when I’m writing. I see her in the lines around my eyes, and I feel her in the curve of my cheek when I smile.
These little things have become as stunning to me as that sunrise on the morning she died, and I thank God for these tiny miracles and moments with her, as the space around expands to let in the light.