Soundtrack in my head: Ahmad Jamal, “Poinciana”
At 2:20 p.m. on Friday afternoon, my mother passed away into the next world. Her soul and spirit are now entering new passages and beginning a new phase in the journey that God gives all of us. As such, the rest of us in the family, in various ways, are beginning new phases in our own journeys.
I have spent two out of the last three weeks in Albuquerque, and during that entire time I’ve had to grapple with the reality that my mother would soon be passing away. I spent most of that time in my parents’ house, just a few dozen yards from the edge of a bluff that overlooks the Rio Grande, much of the city, and the mountains to the east. (I did sleep at the house of my aunt and her partner because I am deathly allergic to my parents’ cats.)
It seemed that time froze during that period and moved very slowly. It was not easy to be there. Before I left Madison for Albuquerque, part of me wanted to be anywhere but Albuquerque. Part of me just wanted to run away from the reality. Yet once I was there, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be. We talked about closure a lot the last time I was in Albuquerque, but I needed to be out there again during the final days to make closure truly possible.
The weather has been strange both in Albuquerque and Madison for most of the last three weeks. Madison has been unseasonably warm with highs in the 40’s—ten to twenty degrees above normal—and as of the middle of last week, we had maybe a couple of inches of snow for the whole season. When I was in Albuquerque, their highs were also in the 40’s—but this was about ten degrees cooler than usual, and they had some 20 inches of snow dumped upon them in the space of a couple of weeks. Normally, entire winters might pass by without any snow on the ground. When I arrived in Albuquerque the second time, I was surprised to see snow not only on the mountains (which is normal) but also on the rise of land to the west and the extinct low volcanoes on the west mesa.
On the day my mother passed, the temperatures climbed into the 50’s and swift-moving clouds accompanied strong winds that whipped around the house. But I escaped bad weather yet again. Two weeks ago, my train pulled out of Albuquerque just hours before it shut down under a foot of snow. This time, the devastating ice storms that stretched from Texas to Illinois bypassed Albuquerque and I didn’t have to deal with any of it.
The snow melted more quickly that Friday, and as I took off on the plane yesterday, Albuquerque looked like its normal brown desert self again for January. Frighteningly strong turbulence greeted us as we took off (I really dislike flying), but this subsided once we hit cruising altitude.
They always talk about the stages of grief for a loved one’s passing. I’m not sure where I am right now—I think I’ve cycled through all four stages several times and will probably do so again. On the plane, I was talking to the woman next to me and made the mistake of referring to my parents in the present tense plural. I didn’t correct myself because, well, I didn’t want to share such heavy information with a stranger I’d never see again.
As we approached Madison at 8 p.m. we circled the city several times, enabling me to see the lights of the city from the air, the isthmus of the central city, and the black of the lakes surrounding it. In the final approach, I was able to clearly see the Alliant Energy Center, the Capitol, Monona Terrace, and the Copps grocery store just a couple of miles from the airport. And I also saw something else unexpected—snow. Madison was receiving its first snowfall in weeks, and like Albuquerque, was returning to its normal January weather. Like fresh snowfall at Christmas, it somehow seemed fitting for the occasion.