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 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 merely perplexing and, if I didn’t know it’s 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 found that, the more time I place between my mother and me, 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 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 all wounds; it simply creates a distance. And realistically, who wants to put distance between themselves and someone they love?
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 can 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.
Twelve years after my mother’s death, I understand that the vulnerability to experience grief is always with me. Some days, it lies dormant. Some days, it becomes inflamed like emotional rheumatism. Like a particular time of year, certain experiences flip a switch, and I am flooded with feelings of grief, nostalgia, yearning, and whatever else bubbles up to the surface.