My mother died twelve years ago on October 23rd and though my actual memories of the days and weeks that led up to her death have faded, my feelings of sorrow are bone deep. I don’t need to remember with any amount of clarity in order to feel overwhelmingly sad. There was a point, years ago, when I believed I would someday be beyond the bewilderment of grief, but twelve years later, as the arrival of autumn has once again knocked me off kilter, I am reminded how foolish it is to have any assumptions about grief.
As I approach this October 23rd, I find it hard to parse my feelings. I feel good, bad, grateful, deprived, strong, vulnerable, and a hundred other things. My memories, thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions about life and loss have gotten all mixed up. I am a paradox of opposite emotions, which is confusing but fine. Life after a loss is simply perplexing and if I didn’t know that it was normal to experience grief years after a loss, I think I’d be feeling pretty crazy right about now.
As the years roll by, my feelings of loss change shape and I’ve noticed that lately they’re fixated on the passage of time. I’ve actually found that the more time I place between me and my mother, the more acutely I ache for the past. My mother was “home” – it existed within her – and now that she’s gone I’ll never be able to truly return. I’m untethered, yet I’m supposed to moor my own children to the world. It’s baffling to think that I’m their stability when so many days I feel like a crumbling pile of sand. I wonder if my mother ever felt this way – washed away by the tide and rebuilt again by the children the next day. There are so many things I wish I could ask her.
“Time heals all wounds” is a particularly laughable phrase among people who are grieving. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds, it just rolls in like a slow-motion tsunami and carries you off down the shore. Yes, you may find yourself removed from the extreme intensity of grief, but you’re also further from the physical reality of your loved one and a past where they could be heard, seen, and embraced. Time doesn’t heal, it simply creates a distance. And realistically, who wants to put distance between themselves and someone they love?
The distance is a loss that needs to be grieved, but on the other side of the paradox is the reality that so many roads still lead back to her. Over time she has become a part of me, my children, and my family on a cellular level. Physically she is very gone, but psychologically she is everywhere. While both truths have the ability to make me sad, the latter brings me immense comfort.
It’s been a while since I’ve written an emotional essay about my mother, but this time of year just gets to me. If you relate to nothing else that I’ve said here, I’m sure you can empathize with the annual grief-funk that so many of us experience. Some years just hit me worse than others, and I have no doubt that my grief is exacerbated by whatever head space or stage of life I’m currently in. Twelve years after my mother’s death I understand that the vulnerability to experience grief is always with me. Some days it lies dormant and some days it becomes inflamed like emotional rheumatism. Certain experiences, like a particular time of year, flip a switch and I am flooded with feelings of grief, nostalgia, yearning, and whatever else bubbles up to the surface.