PS: I think my dad is great.
My mother, Dorothy Esther Burtch, passed away late at night on September 11, 2014. She was just a couple of months shy of her 83rd birthday. It has been three months since her death and I still think about her every day. I expect I will think about her every day of the rest of my life.
The grieving is easier now. I have had some time to gather a few thoughts and process a couple of events that brought me peace. Grief can be so overwhelming; I am praying my experience and these reflections can bring hope to those who feel trapped in their grief with no sense of purpose in the wake of losing a loved one.
Mom became ill with meningitis and was hospitalized for several days. Family members were taking shifts throughout the days and nights so she would always have a family member near. We were all hoping for a full recovery and wanted to be on the spot if Mom became communicative. On Thursday, September 3rd, I took the night shift. As my 86-year-old father was leaving to go home for the evening, I gave him a hug and a kiss and told him “I’ve got her tonight.” He looked up at me, cupped my face, and told me, “She couldn’t be in better hands.” I have never received a higher compliment.
We moved mom the next day to another hospital so she could be assessed neurologically. She fought hard, but was unable to overcome the damage the meningitis had caused to her brain and passed away the following Thursday night. I had been with her earlier that evening. My wife and I received the news on our way back home from my big brother, Tom.
It may have been the travel or the weeks of emotional strain, but by the time I laid down that night, I was asleep in a matter of minutes. The next morning when I awoke, I recalled an extraordinarily vivid dream.
In the dream, my brother Tom and I had taken Mom out of the hospital. We took her to the vacation lake cottage we rented several summers in our youth. Tom and I put Mom, still very weak and sick, on a comfortable couch and told her we were going to bring her back some fresh fish, which we both thought would make her feel better.
Tom and I had a good outing and brought back several nice bluegills and perch. We quickly filleted the fish and brought them inside to cook them up for Mom. When we opened the door to proudly display our catch, we were surprised to see Mom, so frail when we left her, sitting up on the couch.
This Mom, however, was 25-year-old Dorothy Esther Levihn Burtch. Her skin was smooth and perfect. She was not wearing glasses, and she gave us a dazzling smile, just a slight crinkle in her twinkling eyes. This was still Mom, but in her glorious, resurrected form. Whenever I picture her now, this is the image I strive to see. Tom and I were so stunned that we could not speak. Sensing that we were struggling, she simply smiled broadly and graciously. Glancing at the fish, she told us, “Thanks, but I don’t need that anymore.”
Then, she was gone.
That morning, Friday, was chaotic as my family prepared for my son’s wedding. We were preparing for the reception, welcoming family members to town, rehearing for the wedding and hosting the rehearsal dinner at our home. I was still processing my dream, but had these many distractions. Saturday was also a whirlwind as the wedding went off without a hitch, just as Mom would have wanted. The reception was an incredible celebration of joy and family. I thought often that night that Mom would have wanted to see the wedding and the reception, and she found the only way to make that happen.
Exhaustion set in, and on Saturday I had another peaceful sleep, this time with no dream of Mom. Sunday morning included Mass and another gathering of family and friends at our home for brunch.
That evening, the youth ministry program at our parish (with which I volunteer) was to kick off the new year with a guest speaker. I debated about going, but decided it was best to keep busy to keep my mind off of the upcoming funeral, so I headed back to church.
At the end of the program, the guest speaker asked everyone to close their eyes and turn over whatever problem or situation was causing anxiety in their life to God. I have so many blessings in my life, I just closed my eyes to set a good example in case any of the students were looking around and caught me not participating.
I closed my eyes, and only then did think of turning over my grief to God. Mom’s death was still so recent, and I was still processing the loss. In my typical fashion of dealing with this type of issue, I was working the problem out on my own---rationally and logically. Death is a part of life. Mom lived a great life. All of the normal platitudes were playing in my mind. I was still struggling to let her go.
I pray often, usually several times a day. Sometimes, I wonder why. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing anyone for whom I am praying any good. I know all my prayers are received, and I know all of my prayers are answered, however, the answer is not always clear to me. The message I received that Sunday night was the clearest and swiftest response I have ever received.
That clear response was: “I’ve got her tonight.”
I immediately thought: “She couldn’t be in better hands.”
Reflecting on my dream and all that has followed, it’s clear to me that the best way to remember and honor Mom is by doing what she always wanted, following the example she always set: being kind to one another. As I picture that beautiful image of Mom from my dream, I am reminded of her graciousness and constant kindness. By emulating this, we can keep her with us, honor her, and feel her presence.
Mom’s absence still leaves a hole in our lives, but I am consoled in this grief knowing that she is in God’s hands. This is the hope we all have when we follow and trust our loving God. We couldn’t be in better hands.