It’s 7:06am, and I’ve just spent the past ninety minutes and two cups of coffee reading old journal entries, many of which were rife with sarcastic wit and lighthearted storytelling. Some, though… some of them were sharp with emotion, making them too much to share. Something has shifted, however. Subtly. Slowly. Sneakily.
A year ago today, my mom died of a misdiagnosed spider bite. It’s less shocking than it seems, as she was already in the late stages of kidney disease. She likely didn’t have more than a year, anyway. Probably more shocking is the truth surrounding us: we didn’t like each other. We loved each other because that’s what you do when you share DNA, but we didn’t like each other.
Perhaps the most shocking of all — for me, at least — is the grief that came with it and my curious need to honor the loss of a woman who didn’t really take up much space in my life. Alone last Christmas Eve, sipping a bourbon at my dining room table, I wrote the entry below. I remember thinking that if I could just make it through the next day, both of our birthdays, and to her death-day, I would have survived all of the “first withouts,” which, again, surprised me because, by my design, more than half of my life had been “withouts.”
“The day my father died, I was at the grocery store buying bananas.”
I had a meltdown in the Sprouts baking aisle just hours before that line caught my eye. It was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving-ish. My mind has blurred the calendar a bit. Anyway, a box of natural food coloring in my periphery dropped me. It was the exact sort of item I’d have brought home for her to dye the inordinate number of wreath cookies she conned us into helping her make every year. She would’ve been annoyed at my granolaness, and I at her disregard for consuming chemicals, but the season would’ve softened both our edges, even if only for the day. Four decades of holidays flashed through my mind like a time lapse, and as I tried to quietly step away from the unexpected grief, I, blinded by my tears, turned into a baking display. I never knew that heartbreak had a sound until I heard boxes of natural food coloring and cans of coconut milk crashing around me. That was also the moment I learned that your heart can be broken by the loss of someone you struggled so hard to share space with.
I didn’t know that I could be suffocated by my own thoughts or that there’s no timeline on being comfortable with this new normal. I didn’t know that there are pieces of you that you can’t bury with other people’s laughter. I didn’t know that there are things in life that you can’t outrun or outyoga or outanything. I didn’t know that you could so painfully miss someone that you worked remarkably hard to keep distant, but you can.
My world is divided in so many ways now, and it’s a strange and unsettling feeling to walk around with such hard lines. It’s divided between the time before my mother’s death and after. It’s divided between the people who have lost a parent and those who haven’t. It’s divided between those who call(ed) their mother first and those who strategically timed phone calls to be as short as possible. I write this to tell you that all of this is okay. Or, perhaps I write this to tell ME that all of this is okay. Or at least, that with an unknown number of more blurred days on the calendar, it will be.
That line at the top about the bananas was written earlier this year by John Pavlovitz. It’s the intro to his beautifully written piece about spreading kindness to others, as everyone is fighting a silent battle — his, specifically, about the loss of his father. It fortuitously and interestingly landed in my social media feed mere hours after my baking aisle meltdown, and it’s worth the read.
footnote: The photo above from left to right is my youngest aunt, my mom, and my oldest aunt who passed just weeks later. It depicts the three of their wildly different personalities perfectly.