You Raise Me Up

Mother’s Day is really bittersweet for me these days. My children are far-flung so I don’t see them often. I am an only child of a mother that is living in the cruel grip of Alzheimer’s disease so the combination of these two realities often reduces me to tears. The days of big family get togethers with lots of laughter and food seem to be a thing of the past at least on this holiday. I often feel torn between being a daughter and being a mother - wanting to go be with my children but also not wanting to leave my mom. Like so many other things in my life, this very emotion filled holiday is just not the same anymore and serves as a painful reminder of what all has been lost. I don’t often talk about the fact that my mom has this dreaded disease. I never want her to feel humiliated or hurt. But it is our reality as a family and it is hard. 

This year I decided to take my Mom to do something different to celebrate. Last night we went out to eat and I took her to see “Celtic Woman” in concert. She was so excited, more excited about this than anything else I have seen in a long time. And during the show she was like a kid sitting on the edge of her seat, eyes wide in amazement and wonder at it all. She loved every minute of it!  The voices, the drums, the bagpipes, the dancing, the beautiful videos of the Irish countryside that ran in a loop across the screen behind all seemed to just delight her soul. I loved seeing her smile, clap her hands and ooh and ahhhh. At the intermission she looked at me and said “You are the best daughter in the whole wide world. This is the best thing you have ever done for me besides being born!” We laughed together over that. 

Music has always touched my heart in ways that mere words cannot. I cry often during concerts, no matter the genre of music. Predictably, I wept during several of the songs last night. Towards the end of the concert, they did a song that I didn’t think I had ever heard, “Time to Say Good-bye”.  It is the English translation to the song “Con te partirò” and as the haunting melody played, I realized I had heard this song before, in an unforgettable moment. 

A little over a year ago my mother begged repeatedly to go to Italy and so, eventually, I said “Forget the cost, let’s go to Italy!” And so we did. One afternoon strolling in Florence, we passed through the the piazza del Duomo near the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and were stopped in our tracks by the most beautiful, angelic voice singing. I am not a fan of opera and yet I could not move. I just stood there transfixed as this woman clothed simply in blue jeans and a sweater, stood alone and belted her heart out on the streets of Florence. And in that moment, I listened and wept. Tears ran down my face. I could not move, even though I was unable to understand a word she sang. I had no idea what the song was about. Yet it pierced my heart in an unforgettable way. It is a moment that will stay bright in my memory of our time in Italy.

Imagine my amazement last night when I heard the words in my own language: 

“Time to say good-bye

horizons are never far

 and I have to find them alone

without your light

on my own, with you, I will go

and, Yes, I know

that you are with me;

you, my moon, are here with me,

my sun, you are here with me,

with me, with me, with me.”

I struggled to hold my sobs in check as I listened. I leaned over to Mom and whispered, “Do you remember hearing this in Italy?” I had to jog her memory a bit but she remembered the woman singing on the square. I sat back and thought of the fact that yes, I have had to say good-bye to Phil. I have said good-by to my grandparents and my uncle, all strong forces for good and love in my life. I am currently having to say good-bye to my mother - the long good-bye they call it - and it is torturous. But “you are with me, my moon, my sun, you are here with me…” With so many experiences I will take them with me even though they are not with me physically. They will always be a part of me. They have all shaped me into the woman I am today. Their love will forevermore shine light on my life and heart. I cry even as I write this today because it, at once, breaks and comforts my heart. I am richer for their presence and poorer for their passing, yet I carry some of that treasure within me forever.

As this song faded away, they began to sing “You Raise Me Up” and Mom reached over and held my hand. This is one of her favorite songs and I sat there in the dark with tears running down my face feeling my mother’s hand in mine, hanging on to me tightly, and hearing her voice warble bravely as she sang along,  

“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, 

You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,

I am strong when I am on your shoulders,

You raise me up to more than I can be”

What an unexpected gift there in the darkness amid the music last night. A moment in time to be cherished forever. Amid her confusion, a sweet moment of clarity and joy. A moment of true grace I'll hold in my heart forever. I could write a book about all the ways my mother has influenced and impacted my life. But of all the eloquent words I could share about my mother, perhaps the words of her favorite song are most appropriate. Thank you Mom, for letting me stand on your shoulders to become a woman that I hope makes you proud. Thank you for raising me up to more than I can be…

Happy Mother’s Day…I’m proud to be yours.