My mother passed away last week, after a long fought battle with illness. I have been struggling to write about it, unable to put what I’m feeling into words. Mostly because…I don’t know what I’m feeling. My mother was bedridden and unable to communicate for the last three years, completely dependent on others for the most basic needs. For someone who fiercly guarded her independence, that existence was the last thing she would have wanted. So on some level, I feel an intense sense of relief, even gratitude, that she is no longer suffering.
If I have learned anything in this period of my life, it is that grief is perhaps one of the most confusing feelings to cope with. As a society, we have expectations on how people should behave when grieving. They should appear stricken, slightly teary eyed, with profound words to mark the occasion. Reality is not like that. It’s more of a roller-coaster, marked by low dips of all out sobs, followed by a need for humor that is strong it results in inappropriate jokes that would be all to easy to misconstrue. I spent a lot of last week avoiding phone calls not because I was unable to speak through tears, but because I worried about judgment if someone overheard the peals of laughter echoing off the porch as we told story after story of mother’s life. People asked if I wanted to speak at her service, and I vehemently declined, because I cannot possibly think of any words that will live up to what I feel should be said. When it comes to “proper” grieving, I am falling short.
Of course I miss her. Of course I wish she was here, and that I could talk to her. But those feelings have been brewing inside of me for the last three years, they are nothing new. In the last week so many people have offered condolences, have looked at me with pity for the loss that I’ve suffered, and I want to laugh at them and say, “You’re acting like I just lost her. You don’t understand that she’s been gone for years.” I remember vividly that in those first few months where my mother had lost the ability to speak and would sleep all day, only to stare vacantly when awake, and I couldn’t understand why no one around me seemed to be feeling the loss in the same way I was. I wanted to grab everyone I saw by the shoulders and scream, “Don’t you understand that she’s GONE?? I know you think she’s in the next room, but she’s GONE.” This is the struggle with losing someone who has been ill for such a long time – the grieving period of those close to her doesn’t coincide with the rest of the world.
I was sitting on my parents’ front porch last week with a friend and after a few moments of silence said, “I can’t believe it’s over.” And I can’t. I can’t believe that all the struggle and pain of watching her suffer is done. I can’t believe this monumental era of my life has come to a close. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t, as in literally cannot, believe that it’s over. I will never hear about my friends and cousins having lunch with their mothers and not wish that I too, could have lunch with mine. I know that whenever I have children there will always be a small part of me that will ache because she isn’t here to share in them. The pain of loss is the kind that never actually goes away.
I miss my mother dearly, at almost every moment of the day. But I do not miss her being sick. When I think of her I refuse to remember the weak person she was at the end, but the vibrant, independent and loving person she was for every year before that. And for now, that’s the best that I can do.