Exactly one month ago my mother died. My mom. Mama. I write those words, say them aloud to people, say them aloud to the dog, to myself when I am alone. My mom is dead. She passed away. She’s gone. I say them and I write them, but still they are not real. They are necessary words to communicate the reality of the situation, and we have to chew on them and spit them out and choke on them so that our rational mind can attempt to tidily stitch them into our reality. Our New Normal.
One of the surprising aspects of grieving this staggering loss, one of the many consequences that I did not anticipate, is how flat my story feels without her here. Losing your mom is unlike any other death. She is your history. She knew you intimately before you drew breath. She shared with you her blood and her body. Hers was a powerful and unmatched love from the outset, and she breathed her hopes for you into the atmosphere well before you were sentient. Gone is the database of You, the information about all the idiosyncrasies that only a mother can know and love. Absent is the touchstone of knowledge that only your mama can possess, the innumerable skills and immeasurable education she just somehow has, things you need to know as you bumble through your adult life. The stories of your childhood are suddenly marked by an acute vastness, this hole that stretches wide and leaves you grappling to understand how to express yourself without the underpinnings of a mother’s love to substantiate you. Instead of sounding sheepish as you fill in the blanks of one of your mom’s favorite endearing stories of you as a child, you sound vapid and self-absorbed as you awkwardly try to share pieces of yourself with others.
I recognize that I am blessed to have known the profound and abiding love of my mother, as not everyone has that bond. As a flawed and wretched human being, certainly I did what all of us do and sometimes took her for granted, spat at and rejected that love, fought it with everything I had in me at times. We all do it. We fight what we know is best for us, we repudiate words we know will enhance our existence if only we would convert them into actions. And for many of us, our mothers patiently wait us out. They pray quietly, asking that God would soften our hearts. They gently welcome us into their arms as we mourn the crumbling of aspirations we so assuredly pursued.
In the four weeks and three days since my mother’s death, I have dutifully put one foot in front of the other and gone about my daily life in the ways you are required to do in our culture, despite how every cell in my body wants to just lie still on my bed until the end of time, staring at the walls and the ceiling. We live in a social climate that allows for minimal real grief. Those moments when my nose is red and my eyeliner smeared and it is obvious that I have been crying, those moments are punctuated by a knowing yet uncomfortable silence and a look of helplessness. We have gone through the rituals of loss, they seem to say. The funeral is over and she has been buried. You’re back at work now. I don’t know what to say to you. It’s nobody’s fault that they don’t know what to say, that they don’t know how to react when your usual humor is punctuated by a palpable heaviness.
But even though I know on a logical plane that it’s not their fault, that they’re just being normal American humans, still there is this livid version of my self who is in my psyche flipping tables and throat punching strangers. While externally I am politely boxing up my grief to avoid making anyone uncomfortable by exposing them to my raw anguish, this side of me screams and loses her shit and actually feels these feelings of great and nearly insurmountable loss. She backhands the impatient stranger behind me in line at the coffee shop and screams out loud at the self absorbed “friends” who somehow make everything about them even in the wake of such a tragic loss. And with as much force as I want to lash out at those who don’t understand, that same passion embodies the empathy I suddenly has for those who have lost a parent, especially a mother. There are those who have traveled this road long before my sisters and me, and I want to squarely grab them by the shoulders and demand to know how the hell they survived. Those who are new to this, who are at a similar place in their journey, I want to grab them, too, and pull them close to me and say I am so, so sorry.