The anniversary of my mother’s death is approaching. While time is never a good measure of grief, I don’t feel as if I’ve truly come to understand that my mother has died.
Part of the reason is my heart still feels so sensitive to the loss, so I try to protect myself against the pain. I have yet to re-read her letters to me. When I find them in a stack of papers or in a drawer, I pass them by.
My father died seven years ago, and the grieving process was different. In both cases, my mother’s death and father’s death, I felt as if the world I inhabited had been forever altered. However, in my father’s case, I was much better able to comprehend the loss.
I would pass by his favorite cinnamon rolls on a bakery shelf, and I would remember him. I would wear one of his old sweaters and feel his strong arms around me. I would remember one of the last visits I had with him, when he grasped my hands in his (he was too weak to stand) and thanked me for coming.
I remember how, after his death, so many people from my workplace and among my friends sent cards, flowers. I remember visiting my mother, a new widow, and sharing her sorrow and loss.
I remember the pain I would feel when saying goodbye to her, knowing she was living alone for the first time in almost 60 years.
I remember phone calls with my mother, when one of us would mention a memory of my father, and we would both fall silent, our words stalled because of tears.
The grief for my mother is different. First, I don’t have a living parent to grieve with me. Yet I have siblings with whom I share this grief. So it’s not as if I am alone in my sorrow.
As I contemplate the greatest difference between the two losses, I can best articulate it by saying that when my father died, as dearly as I loved him, I didn’t feel as if a part of me died with him. I didn’t feel as if I had been hollowed out.
However, with my mother, I felt bereft in an almost unspeakable way.
The one who bore me in her womb, who caressed my forehead, who held me when I was scared, who cared for me when I was sick, the one who knew me intimately from the moment she was aware she carried me in her body — that one had left me.
She had left me, yet it was impossible for her to leave me. She couldn’t leave me because she was a part of me.
In the year since my mother died, I have become a grandmother, fortunate enough to be present when my daughter gave birth to her son. I am fortunate enough to have witnessed my daughter nurse my grandson, cuddle him, delight in him, comfort him, adore him. What my mother was for me, my daughter is now for her child.
So perhaps my grieving is made more challenging because when I grieve my mother, I am also grieving for myself, the infant she carried, the child she nurtured, the teenager she guided, the young mother she encouraged, the adult woman she befriended.
And maybe I am unable to fully acknowledge that my mother has died because she lives on.