Five Years: August 8th

August 8th, 8am, relieved dad had survived emergency surgery on his aorta. The hospital staff sent mom home after we’d been up while she waited. We did the rosary together, which I had to look up on the internet because I’d forgotten. It made us both feel better. We both, at long last, went to bed after that overnight vigil.

August 8th, 10am, woke up and got the news that he’d died.

Every August 8th since, I’ve called her. Until this one.

 

The one thing I’m sure of is that mourning is fucked. It’s as if you’re okay all the time except you really aren’t there. It’s easier to be unhappy with how things are; it’s easier to be tired.

The hardest thing for me is feeling like nothing really means much at all. How could it? You spend your life bringing home good grades, good news, bad news, news – everything is about collecting apples in your skirt to show your parents that you are okay, that you love them, that you’re managing. So who now is there to show?

When my grandma died so many years ago, my mom and I bonded over that. When my father died we did again. But now, you know? There isn’t that person anymore, the one who is like me in their loss. My mom and I had that in common, and she knew how deep my pain gets. The last week I spent with her, she told me to go back to Wisconsin, to be with my students. She excused me from that pain of watching her dwindle, of watching her disappear. She talked mostly to my father, to other people who weren’t there; the line between her dreams and waking life softened, broke, until there was no line at all. There was so little blood moving her body the muscles of her mouth and eyes didn’t work; she would listen attentively but couldn’t get her eyes to stay open. All systems were failing.

For hours at a time I held her hand. I learned what temperature washcloths needed to be so she wasn’t shocked by the hot or the cold of them. She didn’t really remember any stories; instead, I told them to her and she nodded along. She lived a lot of trauma but a lot of joy, too. Her father used to beat her, her mother, her sister, until he died when she was 18. She helped her mother raise her two younger siblings, and at 20, she met a man whose own father had died when he was 18, who was also the eldest of three. That must have been one hell of a first date, or third, or whenever it was that they figured out that they had all that in common.

He asked her to marry him seven times before she said yes, and he wasn’t that kind of egomaniac. He was barely confident, and it’s always been a mystery to me that he managed to persist so stubbornly. He just knew she was his wife, I think, in a way that superseded any failing on his part or on hers.

I am relieved she doesn’t have to miss him anymore.

I am not relieved I will miss them both for the whole of the rest of my life.

Five years ago today the colors of the world changed for me. Nearly three months ago their brightness faded like old construction paper on a grammar school wall. Mourning is looking around at all the things and seeing absolutely nothing that’s there but only what they used to mean, how they used to feel before, how little they signify now. It is waiting to bestow things with meaning again and knowing it isn’t time yet if ever. There is this: what is beautiful is beautiful in ways it never was before, and what’s ugly doesn’t matter half so much as it once did. I’ve stopped caring if anyone likes me or calls me because most of the time people spend their time complaining about things that don’t matter at all.

My love to all of you who have lost all of the parents you ever had no matter who they were or how they were or what they were to you.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

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