There’s something to be said about the abstract side of grief. I was reading a book this morning called Mistaken Identity. It’s a story about two families from Indiana whose daughters’ identity were swapped, thus forcing one family to bury who they believed to be their daughter, while their actual child lay comatose, in the warm and loving care of another family.
The story in of itself is inherently tragic, and one that, while I read, I try to use to help me come to terms with my own inscrutable level of grief.
I go to a chiropractor four times a week. While that may seem valueless to my point, I seem to catch myself each time I sit and wait to make a right at the stoplight. This intersection holds no particular value, and aside from traveling the few times we had on this street to visit my brother and his family, I can’t think of a good reason as to why every single time I’m at this stoplight, I ask God to wake me up from all of this.
When I lost my mom, the first day was surprisingly easy. We sat outside, a cool yet tolerable day in February. My fiance and I chugged cups of coffee. My friends arrived, sitting on the stoop with me sharing stories about their day. I cried, but not like I’ve cried in the months since her death. By the time our entire family and friend group was gathered in the kitchen, I was so bowled over in laughter that it seemed like we were celebrating someone’s birthday rather than the sad and heartbreaking news that my mom had been alive only 12 hours earlier. Her mug was still sitting dirty in the kitchen sink. Her shoes, still warm and smelly. Her toothbrush, still damp. Her clothes still wet in the washing machine.
The next morning, I woke up before 6:00 am, guiding my body through the darkened house to make my way toward my father’s office. I flipped open the laptop to write but the words refused to come out. I had never been so devoid of words.
I wandered outside and my father was already sitting out there sipping on a cup of coffee. It was a Wednesday morning – the first day in March. The chills of late winter floated through the porch, but it still wasn’t as cold as the memories housed within those four walls. Something as simple as walking into the bathroom meant stepping over the exact corner of the house where my mother had died. I remember feeling the need to extend my leg over where she rested, like she was still there instead of a morgue with a toe tag and a shrill white sheet enfolding her.
We sat in silence until a neighbor from across the street pulled her jeep in front of our house and made her way to our porch. Her eyes welled up and all she could muster was, “I’m so sorry for your loss. She wa -” before beginning to cry and my father, in full hysterics raising his palm as a sign of gratitude while I remained motionless, scrunched up on my mom’s wicker chair. Bubbling over with emotion, I remember my father breaking down and whimpering, “I don’t know what we’re going to do without her.”
For the first time in my life, I had no idea what to say.
Those first few days felt ungodly surreal, like there was no way that I was the one living through them. I remember my mom, who was held up at gunpoint during a store robbery when she was 22, said to me when it came to the harsh realities of life, “Sometimes it’s not always the other guy. Sometimes that guy is you.” When she died, all I kept wishing for was to not be “that guy.” This must be happening to my fiance instead of me. This must be happening to my friends instead of me. I wished this was happening to my friends, because then, I wouldn’t need to find the words to say. I’d hold them and do my part to comfort their grieving hearts and heavy souls. I could continue on with my day – my life – without ever skipping a beat, because their heartache was not my own.
Whenever I’m in the car driving the ten minute trek to my chiropractor’s office, I think about all the times I still wish this devastating incident didn’t happen to me.
There’s a level of pain and anguish that comes along with the months after you lose someone. I think it’s because the longer the days become, the more insatiable your appetite is for normalcy. People dub the time after grief as developing this “new normal.” There’s no better way to describe it. I often feel this pressure and fear of holidays. Even something as mundane as Labor Day can alter my mood like a mood ring, quickly turning me from a calm green to an angst crimson. I’ve retreated from those that are closest to me. I avoid family dinners, and family celebrations. I often say no to get-togethers with my friends. I make plans only to quickly rectify them because I don’t want to go out in the world and rejoice. I don’t want to have fun. Grief has taken a very isolating role in my life.
I feel better when I hang out with friends. It’s good to laugh, because anymore, I refuse to do it. Things just aren’t that funny. I’m at this point in my grief where I’m still eager to retreat. I’m grateful for friends and family members who can and continue to understand, even if they merely tolerate it.
It’s a hard thing to cope through something so tragic. I marvel at what I’ve been able to accomplish, like choosing my mom’s casket and paying for her burial plot without a second hesitation. I wrote her eulogy the morning before her funeral. Transcribed and etched into the yellowed pages of the black, floral journal I bought for her, I skimmed through the pages that were bleak and sad with my mother’s anguishes. It wouldn’t be until months later that I scrounged up the strength to read them, coming to grips with many entries being about how she didn’t want to die before she saw me happy, wasting time on boys who used me and made a mockery of my emotion.
Her eulogy is etched in the back of the book in block cursive, bold and filling up three whole pages front and back. I wrote about life and how much we loved her, and when I stood in front of a room, with her lifeless body sitting next to me, the surreal nature of this entire thing was overwhelming.
I continue to make strides. If anything, the past year and a half have shown on me an inner strength and force-field I possess. What people don’t always see is what goes on behind closed doors. It’s easy to gather false information through a text message or through someone else’s story. While people understand my sadness, there is also a level of frustration that blooms when I turn down invites and say no to holidays spent at the beach. There is frustration when I refuse any help on the wedding, because it breaks my heart to have to share in a mother-daughter activity with anyone whose not my mom. It bares repeating that this is a situation I’m still trying to navigate, and while there are countless books on grieving and recovering hope in the most dense and dismal of times, there is no one recipe for how we get from Point A to Point B; it’s a blind and often bumpy navigation.
I wake up every Saturday with a feeling of melancholy washing over me. While many parent-child relationships include a conversation after work, or throughout their day, my mother texted me good morning the second she got up. If she didn’t do it, it was considered to be odd behavior. Each and every morning I’d wake up to a flashing text message laced with several pink, bursting heart emojis and prayer hands, and frogs and flowers – anything that would make her greeting fun and wholly special. On Saturdays, when I’d wake hours and hours before my fiance, I’d get on the phone with her. We’d talk about work and gossip about family. We’d discuss our plans for the weekend. We’d just bullshit. During the summer months, we’d accompany them on yard sales, or at the very least, bump into them multiple times while sourcing out items we didn’t need for a decent price. We’d run into my parents so often that it wasn’t ever weird to see them walking to the same exact yard sale just as we were about to leave.
I remember one time my best friend and I were walking up to a yard sale and ran into my mother. She was wearing these ridiculously tiny sunglasses and an outfit that looked like had zero sense of fashion. Both me and my best friend saw her and instead of saying hello, immediately said to her, “What are you wearing? You look ridiculous.”
My mother sashayed her way down the steps, donning an outfit that made her look like an asshole, and said with a smirk, “Well fuck you to you both” and just walked away. The three of us burst out laughing, and my mother quickly ran back up the stairs, touched both of our arms, and said loudly, “Don’t buy anything at this yard sale. Woman’s got shit.”
How can I wake up on a Saturday and reel from that kind of vibrancy?
The new wave of normalcy has to include something as simple as a Saturday morning. It’s as simple as losing the ability to text her, or hear her voice because I got a new cellphone and her voicemails didn’t transfer over. It’s as simple as only holding on to pictures and snippets of videos where I can catch a glimpse of a vibrant memory that lasts 38 seconds long.
It’s having just 38-second long reminders and snippets to rely on.