The Hardest Lesson

The ache makes its presence known the minute I enter the Hallmark store. My mission this Saturday morning is to buy some fancy stationery. I try to stay focused on the task at hand, but the tunnel vision isn't working. The reminders posted throughout the shop can't be ignored: Don't forget — Mother's Day is May 13.

Forget? How can I? This is my first Mother's Day without her.

Eighty-four years, 10 months, one day. Ethel Florence Feagler died the way we all want to: painlessly, silently, swiftly, on her living-room couch while perusing the evening's television listings.

Pick up Cleveland Magazine's May 2001 issues on newsstands to read Linda Feagler's complete essay, "The Hardest Lesson."
I've watched a friend's mother struggle for 10 months with the agonies of stomach cancer before her suffering finally ceased at age 67, and another spend her final days wrestling with the Alzheimer's disease that robbed her of the ability to remember her children's names. My mother's passing seemingly pales by comparison. "She lived a long, full life," acquaintances say kindly. "It's a blessing she didn't suffer."

They're right. But that doesn't mean it hurts any less. The head is rational. The heart is not.

"My mother is dead." It's a phrase that's now at the forefront of my identity, so much so that it takes every ounce of restraint not to blurt out some form of it as part of the greetings and salutations made every day on the job: "Linda Feagler. Cleveland Magazine. My mother died last year. Nice meeting you." The fact circles my psyche like the lone piece of luggage that's always left on the baggage carousel at the airport.

It's been 11 months, but the loss continues to burn like an open wound. It's been 11 months, but the loss continues to burn like an open wound. With it comes that ache. And the tears. It can happen anytime, although it hits hardest when I'm alone with my thoughts. And anywhere: In the attic last Christmas, as I made a feeble attempt to unpack the ornaments handed down through the years from my grandmother to my mother to me, each box labeled in my mother's perfect Spencerian script. At the North Ridgeville Giant Eagle two months ago, when the Paas kits hit the shelves, heralding what would have been the annual Easter egg-coloring ritual my mother and I practiced without fail for all of my 44 years. During the Cleveland Indians home opener, because it was my mother who passed her love of baseball on to me and happily chauffeured me and my friends to Buddy Bell Fan Club meetings during our adolescence.

And now, in the Hallmark store.

Replaying the last month of my mother's life — which ended abruptly on June 20 — leaves me with the same reaction I had after watching Bruce Willis' final scenes in "The Sixth Sense" unfold.

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