In three weeks and six days, my mother will have been dead for a year.
I have just started to dream about her, for the first time since she died.
I am now, just right now, starting to feel like I am a mummy being unwrapped on a metal table in a museum. The gauze that protected me and gave me a layer of softness to cushion bumps and jolts is being unwound, and I am exposed as what I am: a fragile, desiccated skeleton. I could be shattered by a wrong move or a careless jostling.
I’m pretty sure that even as I lie immobile, fragments of me are splintering away—a nearly transparent chip of metatarsal here, a flake of sacrum there.
I am worried that the statute of limitations has run, and that I have squandered my grief time working, playing Candy Crush and reading novels. I should have wailed, rent my garments, taken more time off… taken the sympathy the world had to give while I could still say “my mom died last year.” Because every day past that year I become just another motherless child, no big deal, a person doing something almost everyone does if they live long enough.
People are kind. When they know I’m particularly sad, they say things like “do you want to talk about it?” But what would I talk about? Would I say? That two days ago I had to stop using the purse I carried all summer because I suddenly had a vivid memory of the day we were shopping and I said I loved it but couldn’t afford it, and I went to the bathroom and came out to find that she had bought it for me?
Would I say that on days when I have trouble breathing because of the pain and fear I still wear her Dior Dry Rose lipstick, and the jade necklace my father bought her in China?
Would I say that the start of the new TV season is making me desperately sad because last year’s season premiere of my favorite show was on the night she died, and when I came home from the hospital the next day I lay down on the couch and watched the recording because I was numb and it seemed like as good a plan as any?
I have tried to spin this straw into gold. I really have. I have immersed myself in Buddhist practice, which helps. I have also written about her illness, her death and what came after. I’m a Grief Writer now; it sounds funny to me, like being a Sin Eater or a Freedom Rider. I am, for many readers who know nothing else about me, defined by my role as the daughter who loved her mother, and lost her. I think it helps people. I know my mother would be proud of me.
Still, though, still I find myself crying over mother-daughter scenes in books and movies, and I wake up some days and think that I will have to spend every waking minute sitting with the pain, observing it, giving it my full attention.
Still, I curate my relics: her voice on iPhone messages, the lipstick, her collection of Christmas tree pins. I am letting my hair go gray, and now I begin to see her beloved face in the mirror; and it is so very good to see her, but sometimes I can’t look very long because it’s just a shadow of what I have lost.
And what if, once I cross the one-year mark, I am no longer allowed these feelings?
What if the line I imagine, the line between October 12th and Everything After is a real thing, and I am not only motherless, but prohibited from seeking or even accepting compassion and sympathy about her death?
One day I may have the wisdom to see that my own loss and grief are as inevitable as all of the change in this life. I can say it now, write it now, I get it, it seems true, but lately it seems that I have lost the cushion of rationality and being all philosophical.
I only have three weeks and six days and I’m panicking. The person who knew me best, and loved me most is not available to offer comfort. Because now I am not her daughter; I am a Grief Writer. I am alone, exposed and spending each day trying to feel the feelings without wallowing, be present without obsessing, and get on with life without resorting to mindless pleasures for distraction.
I am stripped to the bone, and the broken bits can’t be restored, but I’ll keep writing what I cannot speak. I will write with compassion, infinite compassion for all who grieve and all who need desperately to know that they are not alone on their metal tables of sorrow, fear and chaos.
Maybe I’ll become something that’s better for having been laid bare, and broken in spots. Maybe I’ll gradually stop being a Grief Writer and be just…a writer.
Maybe—whatever I do is okay, and there are no rules, or deadlines. Just moments of panic, moments of joy and the rightness of sharing myself, unwrapped, chipped and flaked.
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Assistant Editor: Leace Hughes/Ed: Sara Crolick