It has been a brutal couple of weeks, and I’ve been radio silent on social media as I staggered through it.

On May 19th, in a parking lot in Dallas, Texas, where I was accompanying my daughter to a K-Pop concert, I got a call from my mom and dad. They needed help. I knew this was a big deal because they aren’t the type to readily ask.

“Can you come home?” they asked, and I immediately agreed.

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring, though she certainly had been fighting it for months before. She was Stage 3, and my sense was that it was borderline Stage 4. It wasn’t good, this I know for sure. She engaged in aggressive treatment, but her body was weak.

When I talked to her from the parking lot. I told her I’d be there in a couple days and told her I loved her.

“Love you too, darlin’,” she said with a fragile voice.

By the time I got to my hometown in Salem, Missouri, she had been admitted to the hospital. She was having a hard time breathing. I watched for three painful days as she instinctually fought for her life. Oxygen was hard to come by. A combination of COPD, lung cancer, and radiation treatments made her lungs brittle and incapable of functioning properly. Her heart weakened. Her back was in immense pain.

By Saturday night, May 25th, she had died.

There are gifts in any loss. Mom made her wishes plain, taking the guesswork and family squabbles out of both her death and the planning for her celebration of life. Another gift we got was the ability to see her and talk to her one last time.

On Thursday night May 23rd she woke up and was as aware and coherent as she had been all week (save for when she first arrived in the hospital and answered a Final Jeopardy question correct, despite her debilitating pain). Alone with her that evening, I got twenty or thirty minutes to talk with her. I asked her if she was scared to die. She answered no. I asked if she was tired of fighting. She said yes.

She said she was thinking of my dad, and us six kids, and her fifteen grandkids and eighteen great-grandkids. She wanted to see more graduations and weddings and make it to fifty years married. But she had lived a long, meaningful life.

My mom did live an incredible existence, one I’ve written about before. Most of her life she spent thinking of others, so it was no shocker that that night she told me she was thinking about others and not herself.

I told my mom that I loved her, that she was strong and beautiful and the best mom in the universe. I told her I’d talked to tons of people who have wedges between themselves and their mothers, and I just couldn’t relate. I didn’t understand. My mom was the absolute best. Not perfect as a person, I understand that, but quite exquisite in her role as a mother. We had a rich conversation together that night.

I thanked her for everything and left with a hug and a kiss on her tired head.

It was the last time I talked with my mom. Forty-eight hours later she passed from this life into the next.

That was a little over a week ago now.

I’ve cried at her graveside, watching my dad kiss her ashes and spread them upon the earth, mixing them with the soil with his bare hands. He kneaded at the ground tenderly like he was back at the hospital, massaging her back.

I’ve cried in a coffee shop, thinking about her peanut butter cookies and how I would never taste them again.

I’ve cried in my parent’s kitchen when my dad asked me if I wanted her Stan Musial Cardinals jersey, a gift from my wife and I a couple Christmases ago.

I’ve cried with my wife and my kids and my sister and my dad. We have mourned and celebrated and made it to the next day, which is all you can do when your matriarch is no longer there.

While the good seed of mom’s life has been planted securely in the ground and awaits a resurrection that will provide incomprehensible light and love for all eternity, her planting feels more like a plucking for those left behind.

My daughter asked how I was doing, and I told her the best I could how I felt.

“This is a different kind of pain,” I told her. “It’s not a fast pain. It’s a slow pain. And wherever the middle of me is, wherever I am at the center, that’s where this pain lives, and I think it’s going to be there a long time.”

My family has been loved and supported and cared for so well. We’re a private bunch, but our community has been superb. I know they’ll continue to be.

My mother lived well. We bid her farewell in a way that honored her — with a motorcycle procession blaring Pink Floyd, family and close friends (which is just an alternate pronunciation for family) gathered around her gravesite, a brief but sincere service, Amazing Grace on the guitar, and my dad bidding her farewell in a loving and beautiful manner.

In this, my mother also died well.

Catherine Louise Benton — beloved daughter to Edgar Nelson and Martha Bernice, beloved wife to James Benton, beloved mother to six children, grandmother to fifteen, great-grandmother to eighteen.

July 28th, 1944 — May 25th, 2019

It’s the story lived on the dash between the dates that made her beloved.

And beloved she shall forever remain.


15 thoughts on “A Loss of Words & Words of Loss

  1. Titus, this is a beautiful tribute to your Mom. I’m so sorry for you and your family’s loss. Thank you for taking the time to encourage others even in the midst of going through this.

  2. Titus,
    Am so incredibly sorry for your great loas as you certainly have our deepest and sincerest condolences and you and your family will all most definitely be kept in our thoughts, hearts, and prayers. What a beautiful tribute you wrote and how inspiring and moving it was. God bless you always!

  3. Thanks, Titus, for this eloquent and loving tribute to a very special sister in Christ. Your mom, my mom, and so many other moms are making heaven sweeter day by day. I’ll always remember Cathy’s big smile, her love of motherhood and her special family, and that mid-winter dip in that cold 4th Street water. So long for just a while, Miss Cathy.

  4. What a beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m glad she made such a positive impact on the world (and will continue to do so through her kids/grandkids/greatgrandkids). Such a woman leaves a legacy that goes on for generations. Praying for you and your family as you struggle to adjust to life without her.

  5. Titus, what a beautiful tribute to such a wonderful lady. She was one that I could always rely on to listen and just talk to me. Her wisdom beyond measures. My thoughts & prayers to your family.

  6. Titus, we are so sorry. Your Mom was a very special lady, you and your whole family are in our thoughts and prayers!

  7. Titus, so sorry about your Momma, we lost our Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandma, Frances Jackson on May 7, 2019. Its tough and join the roller coaster that we are journeying on. God it with us and we know where our loved ones have gone and are going. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  8. So sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute to what surely must have been a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing. Praying strength, memories, good cries (cuz yes there are those), love from others and healing.

  9. So very sorry, she will be so missed…She was an amazing and really delightful woman. I’m so glad I was privileged to know her just a bit for a little while. I especially love the description of her procession, so perfect. And I can see that great smile still when I think of her. Beautiful. Praying comfort for you, Nicoya, Jim and the whole family.

  10. Titus,
    So very sorry for the loss you are feeling. You are right, that loss is in the center of your being…the center of your world, the center of your heart! How fitting…your precious Mama was the center of your life. Everything centers around those who give us life. Christ centers us around those we love, and He is at the center of that love! It is pretty much the ‘Circle of life’!
    Lives work together in such an intricate way, yet we all seem to forget that we are not in control of our own lives, and when the Creator of life is ready to bring us home, those left behind feel a huge loss, a hole if you will…right in the center of your heart! I have read these condolences and they speak of your words being such a great ‘tribute’ to your Mom. I say that you, your siblings, your spouse’s, children, your dad…you are the ‘tribute’! Your lives are your Mama’s legacy…you are what continue’s your Mom’s life, even after her passing! You are all like a quilt, each of you different, yet stitched together in love, by a woman who was strong, funny, loving, kind, and so much more. If you will wrap yourselves in that quilt, in the love that comes from each and every piece of that quilt, you will survive this loss and bring your Mom’s legacy to life! That is the ‘tribute’! She is not gone, she lives on in each of you!❤ You are all in our thoughts and prayers! Hugs!🙏❤🙏

  11. Beautiful tribute to your momma, she had a very big heart and a blast to be around. I know you all will miss her so much, but you will have some great memories to share when you all get together.

  12. Titus, your Mom was a lovely person. She always had a smile. I know she was proud of her children and the adults they have become. My sincere sympathy to your Dad, Nicoya, you and the siblings I do not know along with her grands and all the families. Thank you for this tribute.

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