Mother’s Day was never a big deal in our household — low-key when we were growing up, and merely a nuisance after mom passed. But this year, it’s been on my mind a lot more because of The Dinner Party in my feeds and dinner partiers in my life.
And I find myself collecting articles and quotes, and nodding my head.
…about how the expectations of Mother’s Day feels off…
American culture reminds us to remember them on Mother’s Day, mostly through celebratory sales and elaborate floral arrangements. But we don’t need the reminders, because we keep them with us, always.
…and how a cancer surgeon moved through his wife’s diagnosis and passing…
The waves and spikes don’t arrive predictably in time or severity. It’s not an anniversary that brings the loss to mind, or someone else’s reminiscences, nor being in a restaurant where you once were together. It’s in the grocery aisle passing the romaine lettuce and recalling how your spouse learned to make Caesar salad, with garlic-soaked croutons, because it was the only salad you’d agree to eat…Or on the rise of a full moon, because your wife, from the day you met her, used to quote from The Sheltering Sky about how few you actually see in your entire life. It’s not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It’s phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there’s nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away.
…and this article, this article (via Frank Chimero) that I would post whole-sale if I thought it would make you read it. So much of it hits close to home — from the writer’s delayed grief to her looking at others’ stories to help her define her own to her language of “unmothered” instead of motherless. We always had moms; we have them still.
When I returned to New York in late October, only two days after the Shiva, I threw myself right back into school as though nothing had happened…What I kept hearing from friends during that time was that I looked “good” and “strong.” That I seemed “fine.” I didn’t feel fine, but I also had no idea what to do except carry on. “I don’t know how you manage,” an old friend told me. “If it had been my mother, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.” She thought she was paying me a compliment, not realizing that that’s about the worst thing you can say to someone in mourning—as though by merely starting my days I was betraying my mother. Am I? I started to panic. But then I came across Roland Barthes’s “Mourning Diary,” which he kept immediately following the death of his mother. In it, he writes, “No sooner has she departed than the world deafens me with its continuance.” I remember reading this and experiencing a physical spasm of recognition. He adds, “I seem to have a kind of ease of control that makes other people think I’m suffering less than they would have imagined. But it comes over me when our love for each other is torn apart once again. The most painful moment at the most abstract moment.”
Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn’t delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment.
And I wonder whether it’s good or bad that these articles keep crossing my path, dropping hard emotions into my daily life when everything else is going along pretty rosily. Do I protect the joy in my life, or do I honor the loss? Should I avoid the feeds, or should I embrace them? Can I do both at the same time? After all, there’s no selective numbing of emotions; numb one, numb ’em all.
Something I’ve learned this past year is that grief means holding multiple emotional truths at the same time within the same body. Here are some of the truths I’m holding right now, oxymorons all:
- I am already 10 years into my loss (by the calendar). I am only 3 years into experiencing my grief (starting with my sabbatical).
- I’ve already survived the hardest parts. I’m still (literally) holding my breath in anticipation of worse to come.
- I am deeply grateful that the loss has taught me how to feel and love more deeply. I am overwhelmed by and afraid of the power of that kind of love.
- There is a version of my (higher) self that exists without any titles or narratives. Our stories define who we are, and the story of my parents is foundational to who I am today.
- I want to move on and not have it define me. Moving on means it will always define me.
For me, when the little mines happen throughout the year, my default reaction will always be to pull in, draw back, go inward, hold my breath, and wait it out. But that is how emotions get stuck, stop moving, and grow to become more challenging. Better to breathe deeply, reach out, stay open, take care of self, take care of others, develop rituals, and let it move.
Each “little mine” becomes an opportunity to practice the joy part (harder because it leaves us more vulnerable) as much as it is to honor the loss.
I thought I was done with the surprises. I will never be done trying to stay open in the face of them.
I hate that. And I love it.