Still Saying Goodbye

A casket is really heavy. In fact, after heaving one into the back of a hearse for the first time, I Googled it. Ranging from 160 to 220 pounds, a standard casket, plus the weight of the body inside, easily exceeds 300 pounds. My dad, my brother, plus a few funeral home attendants and I worked together to slide that metal tube housing my momma’s body into the back of the car—the car that would drive flesh and bone to its final resting place. I placed my hand on the mahogany exterior, outfitted in gold hardware, and whispered, “Bye, Momma,” just as I had done the day before she took her last breath.

About a week earlier, I had a nagging feeling, the kind that creates a sense of urgency and begs not to be ignored. I felt that I had to pack up my newborn daughter, approximately a dozen changes of baby clothes, nursing pads (hello, leaky breasts), and a pack of diapers to take a day trip to my parents’ house. I knew this trip would be the last time I would see my mother on this side of Heaven; the last time I would talk to her, hold her hand, tell her I love her and that she was, in fact, the very best momma in the history of all time forever and ever.

I knew this trip would be the most soul-wrenching, gut-punching, tear-jerking moment of my mere thirty-one years on this earth. It was the culmination of the twelve weeks since a terminal diagnosis, and I knew it was a trip I had to make. I kissed my husband and son, convincing myself I was prepared to say my last goodbyes, and headed west.

It was the rattle of the oxygen concentrator that greeted me to her room. She was lying cockeyed—not on her side, not on her stomach, but somewhere in between. She was no longer conscious, probably one of the first clues that the end was near, but the hospice nurse assured me that she could hear every word I said. She heard me say, “I love you.” I know she did.

I fed my baby, read a liturgy, mumbled through tears the last words I wanted to travel from my mouth to her ears. I thanked her for her incredible mothering. Before I packed up all the diapers and clothes and nursing pads for that dreaded trip home, my dad caught me in the hallway.

“Tell her we’ll be okay. Tell her you love her. Tell her she can go.”

I’ve heard that sometimes the sick, the dying, just need to be given permission to let loose the chains of this earthly life to find solace in their eternal home. And that’s what I did. I told her she could go, quietly rested my hands on hers—the hands that held me, guided me, lifted me up—and whispered, “Bye, Momma.”

Nearly one year later, I’m realizing that I didn’t just say goodbye to the most influential and dearly-loved woman in my life. I said goodbye to dreams and expectations I have held tightly or, quite simply, taken for granted. Dreams of my babies spending a week at Go-Go and Gramps Camp in the summers, of my mom and I wedding dress shopping with my daughter years down the road, of extended family vacations in the Ozark Mountains. Of being able to ask her, “What’s the best way to wash dirt out of outdoor cushions?” “Is this paint color too yellow?” “How many cans of beans do I add?”

We were going to take girls’ trips to Dallas and eat lemon cupcakes at Bird Bakery, watch A Little Princess with all of her grandgirls, and learn from her wisdom in every womanly realm. The next day, at 2:52 PM, my mother’s soul departed her earthly body and found incredible, indescribable peace with Jesus in Heaven. Less than two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of her death, I’m daily picking up pieces of the little hopes of our lives together that I had tucked away, some in places so deep I didn’t realize they were there.

In fact, in a million little ways, I’m still saying “Bye, Momma.”

Kelsey Baty is married to the best guy, and is a stay-at-home momma to a 5-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. She enjoys homemaking and a good gym sweat session. She and her husband live in a Dallas suburb, but one day hope to own lots of land where chickens and kids can run and play. The run-of-the-mill spaces she holds as wife, momma, homemaker, and friend have been punctuated by learning to live with the constancy of grief since the loss of her own dear momma.