Today my mom would have been 69.
When I was young, that seemed old. Really old.
From my 46 year old vantage point, that's young. Not spring chicken young, but young.
Not having tragedy strike our family in the way I'd seen it strike so many of my friends' lives previously, watching cancer take my mom last fall was surreal. Like it wasn't happening, even as it was happening. I kept expecting it to feel more.....poignant and momentous. Don't get me wrong, it was. But it didn't feel that way until I looked back at it from the distance of several months. NOW it feels poignant and momentous.
When she was sick, and getting sicker, I thought about that first Christmas without her, her first birthday after she'd gone, the one year anniversary of her leaving us. And I couldn't quite imagine what it would be like.
But now I know. It's like a dull ache that sorta resides in the recesses of your heart and mind and soul and body and emotions. Like something is 'not quite right', and that life feels different. There's an emptiness that can't ever be filled and questions that will never be answered. As final as death is, it has the audacity to offer endless questions that never get answered, like an itch that won't go away....what really happened here? what happens next? where did she go? how do I live now? You either learn to live with the open-endedness of that, or you go crazy trying to answer them.
Learning to live with the unanswerable questions and the dull ache of loss is an exercise of balancing a life full of joy with a good dose of terror lurking in the wings. Of realizing life is short, so get out there and live....and full of the unknown, the out of control, and the pain so better to stay in bed and throw the blankets over your head.
When death visits close to home, a deep vulnerability takes up residence where previously ignorance and bliss held sway.
It is just all kinds of wrong that my mom died of cancer.
Life is out-of-sync and wonky, yet still, amazingly enough, full of gifts. Life feels more real to me now.
Sorta like how you don't appreciate the sunshine unless you've experiences rain.
Death rained down on my family in a tempest I wouldn't wish on anyone. It was a relentless, downward slide into an abyss of unknown and untested emotions, into fear and pain....like a storm on the horizon gathering strength, sirens blaring. I really tried to just give myself over to the gales, to experience it as it happened, trying not to avoid it and dread it, trying to take each moment as it was given, and to let the future take care of itself. But it was awful. The terrible beauty of the transition from this life to whatever comes next is as real as it gets...and that kind of reality is shocking. It is stark and final. It leaves you raw if you allow it. It changes you, shifts your paradigm in ways I haven't yet found words to articulate.
The sun still shines. The storm passes. Only now, I'm ever-aware of the damage left behind....the bent emotions and sheared off memories left in the storm's wake. So I reach for the warmth and light to comfort me, to give me strength to cope with the ever-present ache in my Self. Because the one who gave me life is no more on this earth.
Happy Birthday Mom. You continue to teach me as you did in life to embrace joy in the midst of sadness. Cling with abandon to the hope that life is good no matter what.
And always, always keep a stash of chocolate somewhere in the house.