It has been one month since my mother died.
Her absence is a palpable, yet hollow, void that drifts through the house. She is not in her kitchen, making soup, or bread. She is not curled up on the couch, reading yet another mystery novel. She is not peacefully sewing, working on yet another project, standing to iron the seam, then sitting down, immersed in the tangle of Celtic folk songs and the intermittent whirring of her sewing machine, the music of her craft room upstairs.
We are not in the car together, me driving her idly around the county, listening to The Beatles, reminding her occasionally that there is a chocolate milkshake for her in the cup holder, that she should drink it before it melts, smiling sadly that she is surprised every time she sees it. She is calm on these car rides. She isn’t afraid, for the moment.
I dreamed of her in the days after she died. The same dream, repeated. They were coming to take her body away, to take her away from us for the last time, and then she would suddenly open her eyes, wide in her pale face, and I panicked, horrified. She was still alive. And they were going to take her away.
I stopped taking sedatives after that, because I wanted to be able to wake myself up if I dreamed it again.
Then the dreams changed, and she was still alive. I would find her in the house, puttering about with something, and she would turn her head and look at me, and I would know she was still sick, still confused, but she was happy, childlike, and glad to see me. My mother was still there.
I’m not sure which dream was worse.
I was tired of being blindsided by my grief, and so I absented myself from my life. I did not cook, not much. I did not read, though I have not been able to concentrate well enough to read for over a year, another painful loss in my life. I went to the gym, but my efforts were perfunctory at best. I did not see my friends, and for a few weeks I only left the house to walk the neighborhood, alone, in the gloom of winter, listening to nothing, looking at nothing, seeing nothing but my feet on the sidewalk in front of me.
Even when I returned to work, slowly, only on-call for the Forensic Nursing program, it was primarily absent, paperwork in the office, e-mails that did not necessitate the standard awkward exchange of a face-to-face ‘I’m-sorry-for-your-loss-thank-you-we-miss-her-how-are-you-I’m-ok-good-days-and-bad.’
The words were always said in love, and kindness, and concern, but the hallway of the hospital was never the right place to say, “You think YOU’RE sorry? Holy shit, I am BEYOND sorry my beautiful mother, my best friend, a person of the greatest kindness and love, got early-onset Alzheimer’s and died at age 68 after a year of being afraid. How am I? Fucking miserable. It fucking sucks, and I fucking hate it. My mom is gone, and all I want is my mom back.”
Honestly, it feels like there is no right place in this world to say such things.
I spoke with a life-long best friend, whose father died earlier last year. He too had a long-term chronic illness, and finally his body and his heart were too tired to fight on. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had, because it was blunt and honest and we used the words “died” and “dead” and not the words “passed” and “left us.”
She said, “I think people don’t talk about grief, in part, because we don’t have a language for it. How can someone who doesn’t speak the language carry on a conversation about it? There is no way. There is no language.”
Another best friend of many decades flew out the week after mom died. Her father also died last year, quite quickly. We talked about it very little, and were just present for each other. And there was relief in that, too.
What a miserable fucking club we all belong to, my many friends and I who have a parent, absent, who never should have been so.
My mother has been dead for a month, and it feels like forever. I fight for my memories of her, for memories of her Not Sick, for memories of her laugh, for memories of her presence.
My mother has been dead for a month, and it feels like yesterday. They just took her away from me yesterday, and I’ll never see her again, and this is Not Possible.
It’s certainly not fair.
Other people share their memories of the loss of their mothers, it’s been five years and I still miss her, it’s been twenty-two years, and I still miss her. This does not make me feel better, per se, but it is grounding in an important way.
For there is a very, very large, very stupid part of me that wonders, every morning, why am I not better yet?
On more than one occasion, deep in the night, I suddenly woke up because someone sat down on the edge of my bed.
I flipped over quickly, sitting up, but no one was there.
My mother used to do that when she came in to wake me up in the morning before school.
A week later, I was driving from the airport, passing in and out of rain clouds, when suddenly a rainbow arched over the road, full and beautiful and vibrant.
“Hi, mom,” I said, automatically. And then frowned.
When I got home, I immediately called my therapist.
“This is some woo-woo bullshit I’m dealing with here. I don’t believe in woo-woo bullshit.”
I was really angry. My mother was dead, and we don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, souls, afterlives, The Great Beyond, nada. She’s just gone. And my brain was fucking with me out of grief.
“Yeah, it’s woo-woo bullshit,” she said. “But it’s also you remembering times when you were safe, and loved, and cared for. Those are good memories. And it’s you seeing things in the world that are beautiful, and remembering your mother.
“She was a beautiful person. Of course you see her in rainbows.”
My mother died a month ago, so I absented myself from my life for one more day today. I turned off my phone, and walked into the woods. I put my microspikes on after the first mile; the canopy of trees was so dense not even the brilliant sunlight of the day could break through, and the path was icy.
I walked in silence, listening to the crunch of the snow under my boots. The snow from the previous night was melting off the tops of the trees, falling from branches with a muffled whoomp and crash. There are no views on this trail, so I was mostly alone, passing only a few others who go to the woods for the woods themselves, and the space they find within.
Two and a half miles in, at a small clearing where paths intersect, the sunlight beamed through in columns, filtering through the pine branches, scattered and shadowed and glowing. Snow fell from the upper branches, dry and fine, drifting through the air illuminated by the sun, waterfalls of pinpoint light.
I thought of my mother, peaceful and beautiful as she was before she got sick. She loved cats, and babies, heathered wool yarns, cream puffs from Avellino, the color red, Constant Comment tea, the leaves in New England in the fall, old houses, the smell of used bookstores, and oh, my god, she loved my father and my brothers and I so, so much.
She is gone.
Yet perhaps, in another way, she will never be fully absent from us after all.