I’ve been wanting to write here, it’s been a long time.
Sometimes I hesitate to write about Grief, about the way my life is these days. I don’t want to constantly put my sadness into a world that already has plenty of sadness. Still, Grief is the vein that runs through everything I am and do right now. There is no getting around it, there is only getting through it. This is what takes all my energy.
Do you know the book The Wind in the Willows? Are you familiar with the cartoon, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? That’s what this feels like to me - careening uphill and down in a rattletrap car, hitting potholes that send me flying into the air, screams bursting out of my mouth. Every so often, a smooth patch comes along, I settle back and enjoy the scenery for a moment, but just when I get comfortable I crest the top of a hill and plummet madly to the bottom all over again.
“Grief is like a long valley,” writes C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, “a winding valley where every bend may reveal a totally new landscape."
There really is no orderly progression to this grieving thing. The world wants us to “graduate” from grief - get on with our lives and get back to normal. But just forget about those five “stages” you’ve read of. Forget about the notion that you’ll pass through each one and finally get to the end all nicely healed. Yes, they are all there -the denial, the bargaining, the anger - but they are all jumbled up and every day brings a surprising combination. “And sometimes,” Lewis says, “the surprise is the opposite one. You are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles before."
Last week was an exceptionally downhill week. I can’t tell you why. I don’t even try to come up with reasons for the way I feel anymore because it’s pointless. I just “feel all the feels” as people say these days, and try to work the rest of my life in around them. Sometimes I’m right in the midst of a swirling storm of them; other times, it feels as if I’m on the outside, looking in. Who is this woman who smiles and laughs and talks with her friends? The one who does all that normal stuff like grocery shopping and laundry? Is that me? Or am I the sad one in the upstairs bedroom, curled on the bed with her face buried in her mother’s pillow, breathing in the scent of her as if it were oxygen.
I’ve been reading a book called The Long Goodbye, a memoir by Meghan O’Rourke, who writes of her own mother who died in 2008 at the age of fifty-five. I’m not sure whether reading this book is a good thing or a bad thing. The feelings and experiences she describes are so familiar to me, I could have written it myself. Practically every sentence is a trigger, and I chide myself for wallowing in more suffering than I need to do. As Lewis writes: “...you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each day in endless grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
O’Rouke asks a similar question: “How long would I feel like this? Would this yearning ever pass? Did I want it to?"
I confess - there is a part of me that doesn’t want to stop hurting, that is afraid if I don’t feel this pain that means my mother will be forgotten. I don’t ever want to stop missing her. As much as I hate the hurting, I need it too. Like someone who is a “cutter," I put myself in the way of it sometimes. I bury my face in that pillow. I gaze longingly at the pictures of her I’ve placed in every room. I stand at her grave and weep. Afterwards, I feel relieved - she is still with me.
Then, I want to hang my head in shame. My mother would HATE that I’m doing this. She would be absolutely miserable that she was in any way causing me to suffer. “Promise you won't grieve too much for me,” she said the day she went into the hospital two weeks before her death. Yet here I am, disobeying her every single day.
But O’Rourke gets it right again when she says: “The thing is, my mother is the only one who made me feel better when I felt like this."
And that is at the bottom of all of it. I just NEED her - her kindness, her unconditional love, her wisdom, her willingness to listen to me at all hours of the day or night. I have a multitude of wonderful people in my life who embody many of those characteristics, and I am so grateful for them.
But they are not My Mother.
There is a particular vulnerability about being motherless. “I was irrevocably aware that The Person Who Loved Me Most in the World was...dead. Of course I had my father, too,” she continues.
"But fathers love in different ways than mothers do.”
As do husbands, sons, and friends. For the vast majority of us, no one will ever again love us in that particular way a mother does. Even though I’m 60 years old, I had the magical idea that my mother could still “kiss it and make it better.” No matter what happened, no matter who else in the world might turn against me, she would be there, would be my champion, would somehow make it all right again.
At the very least, I felt, she would never desert me.
But then she did. Leaving me here on this dangerous and lonely planet, where, as Lewis puts it, “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
Today the sky is vast and blue, reminding me that in the grand scheme of the universe, I am of no more consequence than an ant in a sugar bowl.
Friends, I really want to tell you of some good that is coming from this experience, I truly want to put a positive spin on it because I know people expect that. But honestly, today I just don’t have the stomach for it. Maybe tomorrow I will.
But if someday you find yourself suffering an immeasurable loss, one different from any other loss you’ve every experienced, you may remember these words and feel for one moment a little less alone.