Four months ago you left us. Last week as I slept in a hotel room just outside Chicago, I dreamed of you and I wept in my sleep. I wept so hard in my sleep that I audibly cried out until I awakened myself. You were so vivid in my dream that it took me several seconds upon waking to recognize that the reason I was weeping was that you were no longer here. You are no longer here. I have boxed up this reality for several weeks now. I have put it away and avoided thinking about it because it is the only way I can get through the day. But lately I have missed you so much.
All I can think about is how hopelessly I miss you. I miss your friendship. I miss getting your input on the simple, daily things – should I cook this or that for dinner? Should I buy that new coat or wait until I get paid again? What did you think of the most recent episode of Grey’s? Have you listened to that song I told you about yet?
I really, really miss the ability to share new things with you. When I was at a Starbucks up north last week I took a book from a free basket of books that they had. It is a story about a man who suffered from severe abuse as a child, and I know you would love to read it. You were always a sucker for stories about the underdog, stories about the abused who grew up to become strong and resilient members of society. That was your story, and you identified so closely with it. The stories of their plight nudged awake the sleeping child in you, and you were that vulnerable little girl all over again. You held close to your heart all those other sweet little children who suffered unspeakable harm at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. You held in your heart those who came from nothing and struggled to have everything, life always beating them back into their place. It is why you loved Princess Diana and Anna Nicole Smith. It is why you watched every depressing murder mystery show about some nobody woman from some nowhere town whose corpse led to a challenging and troubled investigation that culminated in justice for her. Yours was a heart that bled often and profusely for the downtrodden.
I wish I had realized the asset I had in you before you were so near the end of your life.
I will never be “normal” again, whatever that means. I am coming to accept this as a fact of my life. There will always be triggering moments that buckle me at the knees, songs that sucker punch me, moments when I suddenly become inconsolable seemingly out of the clear blue sky. Right now we are in the midst of firsts: my first promotion without you here to share in my joy; the first time I had to euthanize a pet without you to talk me through it; the first time we have to handle birthdays and holidays without your presence.
One of your grandsons had a birthday not long ago; another one will have one in a few days. Lately I have not only missed you terribly, I have also felt terribly bitter about what I know I won’t get to experience with you. If I have children, you will not be there in the hospital with me. This is a reality that I have mulled over and held onto tightly in recent weeks. My professional life is going well and I know you were proud of me, I know you would continue to be proud of me, that you do continue to be proud. But I have found myself growing resentful at my reality, at being twenty-nine and having no prospect on the horizon of marriage and family any time soon. These are things that I only realized I wanted in the final months of your life. A year ago I was set on not having children, so certain I was that I would only screw them up. It was in no small part due to your gentle coaxing that I realized I will definitely screw up my children, and that’s okay. We all do it. We do the best we can with what we have, but no child escapes their childhood unscathed. You taught us that no parent makes perfect choices, but as long as the main focus of our existence as both a parent and a human is to love with all we have, to be honest, to be both gentle and tough and to know when which is appropriate, then that’s the best we can do.
It seems bitterly ironic that I would yearn so deeply now for something I wasn’t even sure I wanted, but that yearning is underscored by your absence. I struggle with the choices I have made, I fight to retain the stance that those choices have helped shape the person I have become, that it is better to be where I am than to have gotten tangled up with the wrong person. In some sense I came out of the womb fighting for what I wanted, but it was you who nurtured that and very carefully fostered it so that I would see obstacles as challenges and learn to persevere in my pursuit of goals and aspirations and dreams in this life. It is a strange feeling to be in a place where I cannot fight, a place where I need to coast for a while so that the things I want might fall into place. You and I talked earnestly about this before you died, a time when you were so tired and I was so self-absorbed that I couldn’t tell just how worn out you were. There are nights when I sit quietly in the dark on the floor, the dog pressed against my leg, swilling an over-full glass of red wine, wondering if I will ever forgive myself for not being more conscious during your final months of life. I want to forgive myself, and I know you would want me to, but I find it difficult to do without you here to tell me how.
My sisters and I don’t talk every day like we thought we would. None of us anticipated the weight of the every day or the sheer exhaustion we would experience just from trying to keep up with basic tasks. We don’t keep our living spaces as clean as we used to, we struggle to bother with hair and makeup and appearance. We don’t sleep well. We wake up in the middle of the night. We fail to go back to sleep. We have nightmares with you in them. We box up the raw ache of loss in our waking hours and you slip out of that box at night and that pain torments us in our dreams.
I should have expected that we would retreat and that we wouldn’t experience this loss as a unified front the way we initially thought. I have been through this before to some degree. I have known what it was to become familiar with the extremely personal nature of loss and grief and mourning. It is not that you want to go through this alone, or that you withdraw by choice. It’s just that getting out of bed and brushing your teeth and putting on clothes and interacting with the world outside the four walls of your own space is so taxing that you are lucky to be able to drag yourself inside the house before you collapse into a heap. When you have to care for anyone or anything else? Forget about it. By the time you get to the end of the routine and complete all the basic functions of living, by the time you are able to actually sit down for a minute to yourself and take a breath, you are already in the red. It’s not that you have nothing left. You have less than nothing. And you have to somehow scrape those bits of nothingness together and get yourself ready to do it all over again.