Tender Spots

“I realized there will always be tender places in my heart for those precious things that are no longer with me. It’s like the bone in my elbow, the one I cracked 10 winters ago in a fall on an icy sidewalk. When I stretch or strain it too much, there’s a sudden, sharp twinge of pain followed by a few moments of achy tenderness. In a reflex movement, I reach over with my other hand and massage it gently. “There there, I murmur, “calm down, it will be alright.” ~from Tender at the Broken Places, July 1, 2014

The month of March came blowing in like a lion early Wednesday morning, bringing with it many tender spots for me to massage. March 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death, and March also brings both of our birthdays falling within three days of each other (mine on the ninth, hers on the twelfth.) Last year she spent her birthday in the hospital; this year she would have been 90 years old, a milestone date for sure, but one not destined for her to achieve. 

March is only two days old, and I’m starting to feel the phantom pains of remembered grief. I’m not surprised by it, and I think I’m prepared for it. The last eleven months have been an effective crash course in handling intense grief. I’ve always been a model student, and I give myself credit for surviving an event I believe was the hardest thing that ever happened to me. In the first weeks after my mom died, I felt sure my heart was broken forever. But the human spirit is indomitable. The restorative powers of time, love, and friendship began to work their magic, and the broken places in my heart and soul began to heal.

Am I “over” it? Of course not. I realize now that there is a certain grief you never “get over.” The broken places finally knit together in some semblance of working order. But we are always tender at those broken places. So when I’m out shopping and see a middle aged woman helping her mother out of the car at the grocery store, my heart aches. When I drive past my mother’s house and see familiar trees cut down in the backyard, my heart aches. When I crave a taste of her cheesecake or quiche or carrot cake or shepherd’s pie, my heart aches. When I look at her picture, or listen to a recording of her voice - oh, how my heart aches. 

Oddly enough I look forward to those moments of tender yearning. They no longer consume me or double me over with pain. Instead they gently remind me how important my mother was to me, that her memory continues to live in me. It’s as if I have a piece of her tucked away in my heart where I can keep her safe. Memories that were once too painful to contemplate are now like a salve applied gently to those ever present tender spots. Just as the word tender can mean caring and kind as well as easily injured and sore to the touch, so are these memories more of a soft, poignant warmth than a sharp, hurtful ache.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “Part of the process of rebirth is the growth of a new relationship with the dead. Like all gestation, it is a slow, dark, wordless process. While it is taking place, one is painfully vulnerable. One must guard and protect the new life growing within.” It seems strange to think of having a relationship with someone who is dead - just the idea of it takes some getting used to. After all, the word “relationship” implies a give and take with another person, a living person who has something tangible to offer. 

Yet those tender memories I have of my mother offer me so many of the same things she offered me in life -  guidance, affirmation, understanding, wisdom. Those are the parts of her I want - I need - to remember every day, and call on for comfort.

The parts that remind me everything will be alright.