Dear Mom: Five years. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve lived half a decade without you. By which, of course, I mean that I’ve lived half a decade without you able to answer when I (still) instinctively reach for the phone, despite your being very much present in my heart and my mind.
I think what most surprises me is how my experience of loss is still actively shifting, even after five years. Your death was a seismic shift that rearranged the landscape of my life. I’ve mostly found my way around this changed place but occasionally there’s another boulder that was loosened by the quake that tumbles into my path, another fall-out loss. Boulders that remind me that my world is smaller, because you connected me to your world, made me a part of those places and relationships and stories. And my world is less kind, because you influenced the people around you to be a little better versions of themselves.
Other shifts are a pleasant surprise. The weeks after your stroke were my first real experience of hospitals. For most of the last five years, remembering anything from those days has meant being right back in that room, flooded with all the helplessness, overwhelmed by my inadequacy and terrified that I was somehow making bad decisions, not doing enough, not doing the right thing… But this spring I found myself recalling the first time I took the overnight shift, and it was different. I was sleeping fitfully on the family bench/bed and noticed you were awake in the middle of the night. You seemed restless, and the nurse wasn’t around, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat next to your bed and held your hand until you fell back asleep. When I remember that night now, I’m no longer inside that scared and helpless self. Instead, I can see how hard it was, both of us scared I’m sure, and how sweet it was to just sit and hold your hand, together, through the dark hours of the night.
It gives me hope that more of those hard places can yet soften.
It also makes it more difficult to pretend that those hard places don’t exist. I’ve never been to visit your grave. I know that no plot of concrete and soil contains your essence, but places matter to me and I wish your grave could be one of my sacred places. Instead the thought of that cemetery fills me with rage and hurt. But I hope that someday I can forgive the burial you received, and I can visit.
I can also see how I thought grief was a process and at some point I would feel like there was an end. But right now, that doesn’t make any sense, I guess because I’ve come to see grief as indistinct from love. I think that grief just opens us up to greater love, which opens us up to more grief, and the cycle carries on. Love comes first, and in the end, it’s all just love.
So here I am, still learning from you what it means to love, how to love better. At least that part feels right.
I miss you.