I have had some pretty great things happen the last few months. We bought a house. Our kids are thriving. We’re planning a vacation for The Husband and I for the first time in 11 years. Life is good. But lately, I’ve carried around a heaviness in my heart that I recognize all too well. The funny thing about grief is:
It Makes No Sense
My mother has been gone for 9 years this Sunday. (Yes, Mother’s Day is her anniversary. How’s that for a kick in the pants?) Nine years is, by anyone’s standards, an adequate time to mourn and move on. The thing is, I have mourned and moved on. The other thing is, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving past. I will miss my mom at seemingly random times because something comes up that reminds me of her or that I wish I could share with her.
It’s not always when I’m feeling down about life. In fact, sometimes when things are going really well I miss her most. It was the same way with my dad. I didn’t even know my dad, so logically there wasn’t anything to miss. But any significant milestone in my life would have me wishing he was there, even if I had no idea what he would have said or done in the moment. There were plenty of prom photos, graduation announcements and newspaper clippings laid on that Navy issue gravestone at Gate of Heaven over the years. The act of mourning may be temporary, but loss is forever, and the sadness that comes with it can hit at any time, rarely making any sense.
You Can’t Prepare for It
My father died when I was young. My mother had me when she was old. I cannot remember a time in my life where I wasn’t acutely aware that I was on borrowed time with her. She was a fiercely independent woman who was by no means sickly, but she did have her fair share of ailments that needed tending to and I was often nurse in residence. I changed bandages on her eye when the tear-duct surgery went awry. I had to figure out how to stop a leaking tube coming out of her back (kidney?) when she was too stubborn to call a doctor on the weekend after surgery. I tied her shoes when she couldn’t bend over after surgery for something I can’t recall (I was a teenager, too self-absorbed to notice such details.) and help her put on makeup when she fell and broke too many bones to do it herself. Then the Cancer call came when I was 19, and as twisted as it is, I started preparing myself for when she would die. I knew I would be young. I thought I could handle it. I thought I would be prepared.
But grief is funny, because no matter how much you plan for losing someone, there is no preparing yourself for life with the loss. The loss is permanent. She will always not be here for my life from now on and there is no making yourself strong enough for that. When I was young, I used to have the most vivid dreams that my dad showed up at our front door to tell us he had to go away for a while but he was alive after all and would be returning to our lives. These were glorious dreams that would carry me through the day as a kid. I am too old for such dreams now. I am not to old to wish they were true.
There is No End Time
I said before it will be nine years since my mom died. It has been 36 since my father died. It doesn’t make sense that I’m 40 years old and still missing my mommy and daddy. I am grown. I can take care of myself. I never knew him so how can he be missed? I am a mother now so needing a mother shouldn’t be a pull that is so strong. And yet…
I spent all day yesterday surrounded by mothers, talking about mothers and learning about the incredible power mothers wield. I was emboldened, empowered and inspired. Then, I was very, very sad. It doesn’t matter how much time passes. It doesn’t matter how well I’ve passed that time. There is no end time to loss. One might move on, but never move past.
Grief Was Never Taught Any Manners
Grief is very rude. It comes in when it is not invited. It knocks you over like a truck. It doesn’t care if you’re in a meeting, sitting in a church pew or a train seat, or walking through a department store in the mall. Grief bites you in the heart whenever it feels the need. You don’t get a say.
Grief also doesn’t fight fair. Grief mounts multi-sensory assaults. The smell of a person’s perfume, the sound of a favorite church song, the feel of a soft shirt or the taste of a chocolate pie; anything can whistle for grief to come and attack and there is nothing you can do to protect yourself except stop living and then, grief has really won.
Whether it’s a parent, or a sibling, an uncle, friend, spouse or child, losing love is a terrible burden to bear, no matter how much time has passed or healing has occurred. If you’re reading this and you’re part of the club, know my heart is with you. Know that tomorrow is a new day and living well is the ultimate revenge, even for, no, especially for grief.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.