Author’s note: I am feeling a bit under the weather today, so I decided to revisit some old writings I made a few years ago, and republish them for you all to read. This one is very important, because I have a friend who has recently experienced this loss and it has been so hard to put into words how I empathize and understand her grief. I am hoping that this might help. Jenn, this is for you.
So this is the day I thought would make all the difference in the world.
This piece of writing began as a letter to my mother. I lost her a year ago on this day. In the beginning, during those raw, new moments of grief, I wrote to her as a way of feeling like there was still a connection. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about our relationship is the fact that we always wrote our feelings to each other, rather than talk about them out in the open. Writing them down on a piece of paper (or two or twelve) was our way of resolving issues and of airing our hurts. Every time I received an envelope with my name written on the front of it, my heart would sink with the knowledge that I had somehow let her down or hurt her. As I would read, each word would wedge itself like a dagger into my heart until I was certain that I could not bear to turn over another page. Then, having finished the letter, I would reach for my own pen and paper and respond. My responses were always emotional and angry and remorseful and I usually ended them begging her to please love me, to not turn me away. As the years passed and email became more convenient, the feelings were still the same even if the delivery was different. I would see an email from her and dread having to click on it, but knowing that I must. In these letters, and later emails, it was no-holds-barred and anything goes. We said what we meant and meant what we said. There was always resolution, always understanding, and although most of the time, she only wrote to me when she was very angry about something I had said or done or some mistake she felt I was making, they were her way of telling me that she did love me. Those weren’t common words in our home when I was growing up, and by the time I was grown and she had mellowed a bit and would say them, I was uncomfortable when she did. I preferred reading them to hearing them.
I would give anything, right at this moment, to have a letter from her.
In this letter, I imagine that she would take me to task for the way I have behaved since she died. She would be pissed to see me sad, mourning, inexplicably bursting into tears at any given moment on any given day. She would be disappointed in the fact that I have stopped doing the things that I used to enjoy: writing, drawing, cooking, listening to music, reading volume upon volume of any kind of book that I could get my hands on. I do attempt these things, yes, and I do read, but often, I will find myself simply staring at the words in the book before me, wondering what I just read. The other stuff I have mostly set aside for now, because to attempt to do any of it requires the desire, and I have none of that. I have no desire for anything, and most of the time, I feel like I am running this big race from the moment I wake up to the moment I crawl into bed, where getting to the finish line means I can succumb to the oblivion of sleep. All I have to do is act naturally; pretend I am amused at the jokes of others, accept the affections of the ones who love me, make things run right at home, and attempt to do my job competently and with some compassion and caring. I need to respond in the right way at the right times, take my cues from others, and never, ever let on to a single soul that I feel empty. I feel pain and sorrow quite well. It comes in peaks and valleys, but the elusive happiness? I watch for it, wait for it to return, and even fooled myself into thinking that if I could simply make it to the one year mark, and pass through that day with some reverence and grace and as few tears as possible, then happiness would once again come knocking upon my door.
My mother would write to me and say, Lori Rose, that’s a load of crap and you know it.
She would be so angry with me. She would dash off her disappointment with my sad-ass self on a dozen sheets of stationary paper and I would feel EVERY SINGLE WORD. She would tell me to get off my ass and resume my life, to live well, and to never look back on my mistakes. She would tell me how proud she was of me, and she would list all the things that made her proud. She would thank me for her grandchildren, thank me for always trying my best, and she would tell me that although I always lived with doubt about how she felt about me, she always loved me. I wish I could have that letter. It would make all the pain of this past year worth it. I don’t know how to be who I should be, even for her sake. I have forgotten that person, and the person I am right now is some sort of impostor in my skin, inhabiting my life, and doing a piss-poor job at it. I am still filled with so many questions, so many things I wanted to ask her, and I can never realize any of it now, because time flies and life is fleeting and all that good bullshit that people quote when they’re feeling philosophical but they can’t know how I have been feeling because they haven’t lost MY mother and they will never know what it feels like to live in this skin. I should have taken better care. I should have noticed how fast time was flying by and I should have stopped to listen.
Because I cannot let this day pass without something good coming out of it, I want to remember some little things that, to the casual reader, may seem insignificant. To me, they were very important. The last time I saw my mother, in the hospital room, her face peaceful and her pain over, I was holding her hand.My mother had very feminine hands. They were a little plump because she was never a small woman, but her nails were always manicured and she wore clear polish most of the time, and they glowed a soft pink. She had baby-soft dark hairs on the skin between the knuckles and the first joint of each finger, but only a few. My hands aren’t plump but they do resemble hers. When I was a little girl, those hands held my own as we walked downtown, to Zippo to see Grandma, to the doctor’s office, to the store. They smoothed away my hair when I was running a fever and slathered Vicks on my chest when I was really congested. They folded my clothes just so – and I fold clothes the same, exact way now – and placed them in neat piles on my bed. They measured out the ingredients for cookies, for chili, for spaghetti and meatballs, and all the things I loved to eat. They rarely, if ever spanked me, leaving that task to Grandma, who was heavy-handed once and who had the Wrath of My Mother rained down upon her for leaving a faint mark on my bottom on an occasion when she was out and Grandma was watching me and I did something I should not have. One of those slightly plump hands delivered a slap across my face when I was 15 and acting uppity. She was immediately apologetic; I was immediately ashamed of myself for making her resort to that. Her hands were soft, caring, and at the very end of her life, I held her hand in mine and whispered to her that it was okay to go if she had to. I waited for her to squeeze mine, letting me know that she understood. That squeeze never came, and that was how I knew that she was already too far away from me to be able to. An hour after her heart had stopped, I still clung to her hand, hoping for a reflex, for anything. In those long, agonizing, exhausted moments, I just could not let go. Those hands held me when I was a baby. They drew pictures for me. They cared for me in every way that a mother cares for her child. They wrote the letters that I dreaded/needed. Just as her face will never fade from my memory, neither will her hands.
My mom’s hospital room had one window, and it looked out over Lake Erie. She died at sunset, and what a glorious sunset it was. I stood, looking out the window as the doctor removed the respirator tube, and my daughter remarked, “Look at the sunset Grammy gets to have, Mama.” It was the most vividly pink light, and as I peered out that window over the water, my eyes smeared with makeup and my face saturated tears, a sailboat drifted along in the water, peaceful and calm. I will never forget that sunset and I don’t think I will ever again see one quite as beautiful. I am hoping that tonight there is a sunset, and that I am able to find beauty somewhere within it.
Mom, I love you. I miss you in a million little ways and a million big ways and I’m sorry for everything I didn’t do and never got a chance to do and I promise you, I will start putting one foot in front of the other and finding my way BACK to myself by moving forward. You would tell me to QUIT MONKEY-SHITTING AROUND. Okay, Mom. Okay.