I was going to wait to post this on the first anniversary of my mother’s death, but I know so many of you out there who are missing your moms today – whether it’s your first mother’s day without her or your 20th – so I wanted to share this to say: I see you. I know. I’m not really sure how I’ve survived this year but you fellow sufferers have been particularly helpful. A special big bunch of love to Ade & Hanna for having been so tender with me.
You don’t always make the best decisions in the wake of a death. Sometimes you have sex with someone you’ll never have sex with again because it seems like he right thing to do. You might drink too much. You might spend too much money on clothes or dye your hair a new color or get a tattoo. You might decide you’re working in the wrong industry all together and quit your job or move clear across the country.
You might sit in your room at 3AM and watch Deep Space 9 for 4 hours solid.
You might wonder about that guy you dumped 25 years ago and wonder, too, how it was you managed to keep sleeping with him despite your inability to agree with him about anything and realize you haven’t had sex that good since then. Nearly, in some instances, but not.
You might surprise yourself by spending an hour digging out your middle school yearbook only to remember when you’re shoulder deep in boxes sitting half in and half out of your closet that you lost that particular yearbook years ago.
You might wonder if your mom got buried with that ring she found that she was convinced he’d bought her for Christmas that year but that you were convinced he’d bought for their 60th anniversary which he didn’t make it to.
You wonder whether or not you will be younger or older than your mother when she gave up on living.
You wonder how it is she didn’t remember the entire year after her husband died, and you wonder if you’ll remember this year that’s now ending. You are pretty sure you don’t want to.
You stop dead in the street when you see a cardinal in a tree. You try to remember what that means and in what culture it means it. It’s a sign that your loved one is nearby, but is that in some symbolic sense, or is the cardinal supposed to be some reincarnated version of your loved one? Are cardinals always representatives of dead people, or are they just birds sometimes? Because I live where they live so either I’m being plagued by dead people or it’s just spring where I live.
You eat whatever you feel like eating. A muffin for dinner seems reasonable. A turkey pot pie for breakfast is also reasonable.
You work out in a regimented, unenthusiastic way but discover after four weeks that you can actually do 100 pushups, that it worked, but you don’t really care of feel any sense of accomplishment.
You feel disposable.
You wonder when someone tells you that you look beautiful whether or not they can tell you’re dead inside, too, or if being dead inside is part of what makes you beautiful.
You remember every disappointment, every betrayal; every loss from a death reminds you of 15 other losses; that guy who said he’d be there for you but who wasn’t there for you once you weren’t sleeping with him, OR the guy who was there for you but who wasn’t after he realized you wanted to sleep with him.
You save muffin wrappers for your old cat who has discovered an explicable joy in muffin wrapper licking.
You drink too much.
You wonder if you think about your mom being dead too much, enough, or not enough. You wonder if you have unresolved feelings about her even though you’ve spent most of your life realizing unresolved feelings for her.
You think about the joy on her face when she gave you your first bike.
You think about that really terrible jacket she gave you for Christmas one year, a jacket so horrendous you checked the tag on the present in hopes that you’d mistakenly opened someone else’s present because please god let no one who loves me think I would like that horrible jacket. You remember your sister watching you try to surreptitiously check the tag from across the room and how she tried to stifle her laughter while you calmly put the jacket back in the box and hoped that no one else saw any of that.
You wonder if that guidance counselor who asked your mother if you were in a cult because you were wearing African mask earrings is still asking parents stupid shit like that. Your mother bought you the earrings, of course.
You wonder if you will ever stop feeling sad.
You wonder if the friends who are there for you are there because they like you or because they feel bad for you.
You wonder if people who really like and admire you are just deluded and whether their feelings for you would be the same if they knew how you spend your time alone.
You wonder if now, with both parents dead, there is some astonishing reality about yourself you are about to uncover. You hope there is. You hope there isn’t.
You think about calling or emailing someone who really let you down to give them what-for.
You listlessly scroll down Facebook liking everything and posting dumb comments or you listlessly scroll down Facebook wondering why people spend so much time on really dumb shit.
You wake up, as if from a trance, after watching 20 minutes of goat videos. You do not feel better, but you are sure you do like goats.
You wonder if your cats can tell when the dead are visiting and simply choose not to notice them or inform you that they are present. Occasionally you are certain they can see the ghost of your loved one right behind your head because they are obviously staring at something that is just to the left of your right ear.
You assume that other people maybe don’t have as much sexual regret in their lives or that they have a lot more or that for some people sadness doesn’t mean reexamining your sexual orientation, your sexual choices, or excoriating yourself for not sleeping with that very cute woman when you could have. She wanted you. You were scared she wanted a girlfriend. You couldn’t be her girlfriend so you didn’t sleep with her but you wonder if you should have anyway and whether you really should stop considering every last ethical ramification of every possible flirtation, crush, or love affair you’ve ever had.
You wonder if there is anyone in the world who might understand how it feels to hear your mom’s voice on your voicemail still, her beautiful singsongy way of talking, the message she left you only a week or so before she died. You are still amazed at how much she radiated happiness on the phone even when she wasn’t, and how, when you were a kid, she could go from screaming about what a mess this place is to answering the phone with the joy and melody of a bluebird as if she had become a different person in that split second.
You realize you will never hear her say anything new again to you. She won’t see any of the new clothes you just ordered online. But you’re happy she did see that you finally found the perfect raincoat and that a year later you still love it.
You wonder if anyone knows that you kept your hair blue for a year because it was the last color she saw it. No one would have noticed if you’d worn black every day. You know she would appreciate you taking the time to live out this Catholic rite even if it was with blue hair instead of black clothes. You know she would especially like that because she especially liked you.
You wonder if you remember the rosary and if it really would make you feel any better as she insisted it would so many times in your life. Your grandmother did, too, and you wonder how long she’s been dead because once you’re mourning your parents every ghost of your life pays a short visit at least once. It feels like there’s a party but everyone at it is a dead person you’re only remembering. You don’t even bother to try to find the rosary she left you.
Here is the blanket my grandma crocheted. Here are my mom’s pajamas I wore when I slept in her assisted living facility with her. Here is my father’s sweater which is still surprisingly cooler than almost every other sweater I own.
You don’t clean the catboxes as often as you should and you don’t clean the house ever except for every once in a while when you realize you have to clean something because you have no idea what is clean and what isn’t. You do the bare minimum which is even less than what the bare minimum used to be.
You take a lot of baths or you forget to bathe for days at a time and then having to try to remember when you last took a bath as if the difference between 3 or 4 days ago is somehow not negligible. If you realize it’s only been 3 you decide you can wait another day. You come to all the same conclusions a day later because memory is no longer your strong suit and you walk around on a lot of Wednesdays thinking it’s Tuesday and vice versa.
You become certain that taking a probiotic/vitamin C/valerian/fish oil/whatever really has made a difference in your health.
You say “I hate children” with a hint of rage even though you don’t actually mean it and regret it for weeks and wonder if you should explain that you really don’t to the person you said it to or if that would be protesting too much. It’s not children, anyway, it’s how sticky they are and how the world revolves around them that you hate. You decide to explain what mourning is like to that person who you told you hated children to so that they can realize you’re just full blown crazy. You add a smiley face to the email as if that will make you seem less crazy though the opposite is probably true.
You wonder again about unresolved issues.
You can’t seem to fake a smile or even work up the energy for anger, your most stalwart emotion. You feel mean and unapologetically so except the next day when you wish you could be a nicer more upbeat person.
You realize no one wants to have sex with a sad person, not even you.
You wonder why so many people like Klingons so much when they’re just so patriarchal.
Robin Williams was once told that coke makes you more like yourself and so asked, “but what if you’re an asshole?” Mourning is the same as coke, then.
You know you’re fine especially when you aren’t at all.
I still don’t know how to do this, to live in a world where the woman with the brightest voice and the brightest smile who was fearful in a way that made her so old and yet gave you a glimpse into how she must have been when she was 7 is dead. I am still in that room with her, sitting and holding hands with her, the TV on or off, the trees and flowers blooming outside as she lay dying in the spring. She loved spring so much but the sun on her face almost hurt her skin at the end, and the cool breeze was an affront that no sweater could ameliorate.
She was already in mourning the whole time I was waiting to be.
I am pretty sure I don’t know how to do this and probably never will. I am also sure I will be doing this for the rest of my life in one way or another.
2 Replies to “The First Year Without”
Thank you Helen,
I just lost my father. Its morning doves for me.
Through my tears of recognition (answering machine/voicemail) may I say that you’ve masterfully walked the perfect edge between prose and poetry? For me, it’s Cooper’s Hawks, not Cardinals, and yes, cats see presences we cannot.
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