“It will be impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.”
Four years ago, I shared my last Thanksgiving with my mother. Four years. Four. It was our last family holiday--she was dead two weeks later. Four years. It has been long enough now that people don't think of me as being bereaved anymore. No one asks me if I'm okay, thinking, she's just lost her mother. No one offers to bear some of the weight of my grief, thinking, she needs support. No one knows that I have picked up my phone at least once every *single* day of my life in the last four years to call her, hesitating, taking a deep breath and trying to get back to what I was doing before. I hear things like, "We all bury our parents." or "We are just at that age now." or "It's a normal part of life." or "It's not like you lost her when you were a child, be thankful for that."
Every cell in my being resists the word. There is no part of me, ever, that will be thankful for any aspect of her death. No matter how many "At least she didn't suffer with an illness"es or "At least your children all knew her"s that people toss out there like kindhearted hand-grenades. No. Thankful is the wrong word. And, selfishly...if an illness meant I would have been even slightly prepared for her death, then I would gladly take it. And, if the same people who say my children were lucky to know my mother could see the grief my children still struggle with, they'd realize just what a mixed blessing that knowing was.
For me, these last four years have held some moments of true beauty. My children are growing up and holding steady. My family has added a member with my nephew's birth. My own health, which was at its worst right as mom died, has stabilized. I got my MFA in Creative Writing. I moved. I traveled. I have been lucky enough to have laughter, love, friendship, and my fair share of kissing. I've read a million books and written two book manuscripts. I have two cats. I have a good job and teach creative writing to women locally and afar at retreats. I read tarot for myself and for others, which is deeply meaningful to me. I try to embroider things (sloppily) and run miles (slowly). I wake up every day with a roof over my head I've provided for myself. I am thankful--deep to the hollow of my bones--thankful for all that I have. And yet.
Gratitude is not as simple as it once was. Every good thing I am blessed enough to experience is now colored by the loss of her. My mother loved me more than anyone on Earth ever could or ever will. I don't know how you live in the absence of that kind of love without feeling the brutal daily ache of it. The grief crashes over me in waves until I am drowning. Yes, I am an adult. Yes, we all will bury our parents. Yes, it is a part of life. But, it was out of nowhere. She was only in her sixties. I wasn't ready. And neither was she.
When Cheryl Strayed's Wild came out I read through it multiple times, hungry for someone's acknowledgement of just how deep a wound motherloss is for some of us. It is a brave book that comes very close to expressing some of what I felt. But then, I found myself jealous that Strayed "got to" go insane when her mother died...got to completely go feral and run away into solitude in the wilderness to cope with the grief. I, on the other hand, still had kids to raise as a single mom. Rent to pay. Work to do. I had to tamp down the wild wolf of suffering in me and get-shit-done. Falling apart was a luxury I couldn't indulge in. I have moments of howling pain even now that level me, but I can only give it a very small, contained space to run in--then I have to take care of things.
So yes, it is the holiday season again where people express how thankful they are for their blessings. And I count mine, too. I do. But, November right on through until mom's death anniversary just before Christmas is a time of personal reckoning. It is a time I go a little quiet. I go a little dark. I sink a little bit beneath the surface of a vast ocean. Four years later, I am only just starting to come out of the shock of her death. Now, the real work of grieving can begin. Maybe this year I will be able to acknowledge the hard knot of pain in my chest as I try to have my Thanksgiving meal. Maybe when the tree goes up and the ornaments are on it and the rest of the world is singing "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas," and telling me to smile and "not be a Scrooge," I will be able to say out loud, "You know what? This time of year is hard for me." Because it is. And just because the timeline for others says that it has been long enough for me to be through the respectable, allotted process for grieving, I can accept that it isn't. And I'm not there yet.
Her loss makes me no less thankful for her life. And her loss makes me no less thankful for my own life. But, it changes everything. I can sit with these contradictions. The brokenness and the beauty. My heart at high tide.