grief is a wild thing: I am my mother’s daughter

When you lose a parent, there are things that people say. Some are true. Some seem like they’ve been stolen off a Hallmark card. Some irritate more than they comfort, despite the good intentions. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself entirely surprised at my own reaction to things. Repeatedly, I’ve heard, “She’s not in pain anymore.” And yes, that’s true. I’m glad that my mom isn’t in pain. But, damn it all to hell, I miss her. Her not being in pain doesn’t take that feeling away. It doesn’t undercut it. It doesn’t even make a dent in it. But it’s something people say, isn’t it? Perhaps in an effort to say SOMETHING. Because, hell, it’s hard to be on either end of that conversation. I know that. There’s nothing worse than running into someone who hasn’t heard the news. (Except, maybe, that ONE guy who I know knows, but who said nothing, despite having a forty minute conversation. Asshat.) Because it hurts all over again, to have to tell a simple fact: my mom died. I hate even typing that.

While writing this, I’m thinking about the other things people say. At least ONE of these made me want to punch a wall. Here are a few:

  • This will get better with time.
  • I’m sorry for your loss.
  • You’ll feel better soon.
  • She’s in Heaven now.
  • It must be a relief.
  • God must’ve wanted an angel.

I’ve heard those things, or variations of them, a lot. It’s routine, I guess. But you know what no one talks about? The actual absence. The space that used to be occupied by a person, the shared moments, the understanding. The fact that there is a hole in the world, and you’re trying to deal with it, except you can’t. Not really. You’re carrying it with you. Everything else feels small in comparison.

No one warns you about the thoughts you will have. The things that will grab your heart and squeeze it when you least expect it. The other day, on my birthday, my mom’s absence was a palpable thing. Don’t get me wrong: it was a great birthday. But there was a moment where I sat down and thought, Mom would’ve understood. She would’ve taken one look at me and gotten it. Even today, as I’m sitting here with a heap of things in front of me, I want nothing more than her advice. I want nothing more than to just sit with her and tell her about this crazy meeting I had last week, all my insane plans and hopes, and the things that I just don’t know what to do with. She was always that person who SAW me, even when I didn’t want to be seen. Who would listen to my insanity without flinching. She didn’t always like things about me, but she loved me. Despite my tendency to be a spaz. (I am an expert spaz, despite my calm exterior. You know you’ve gotten past all my walls when you see Spaz Me. Very few people ever see my unpolished self.)

There are moments and days where I miss my mom in an unparalleled way. Today is one of those days. Because she was always there, and now she’s not. Because she was always wise, and I need wisdom. Because she saw me at my worst, but loved me anyway. That is all anyone ever wants. That is what I want.

The only thing anyone can do is take things one day at a time. One moment to another. One challenge to the next. With an absence like this, certain things need to be relearned. Life needs a new balance. And that’s only fair, because everything is different. Including me. I realized that, in an odd way, losing my mother has made me hold on to certain things too tightly. It has made me lean on other people differently. This is both good and bad. But regardless, it is what it is – and I am learning as best as I can. Sometimes, that makes me (figuratively) clumsy. It makes me do stupid things. It makes me wonder what would mom do? instead of thinking what do I want to do? Because absence, among other things, makes us foolish in a lot of ways. A permanent absence can make a person angry, frustrated, confused – you name it. Mostly, those emotions are another side of grief. And, I think, when other people’s lives get back to normal – that’s when things unravel the most. Because people get back to their lives, as they should. But your life isn’t normal anymore. You have to rediscover normal. That, my dears, isn’t easy. It is possible, of course – but not pretty. No one tells you that, either.

These are the things that no one tells you. But I’m telling you, right now. For me, these things are true. For someone else, it might be different. For everyone who is muddling through? I get it. These trenches are bloody and suffocating. But I believe that it gets better. I believe that there are brighter days, because I’ve seen them. They’re not all like this. Some are. And man, oh man – on those days? I feel you.

While her absence sucks beyond the telling of it, it does remind that of how lucky I was. Because I had that. I had that person in my life who saw the ugly side of me, along with the red lipstick, and she didn’t flee the other direction. (There were times she might’ve been better off.) That fact is reassuring, because it reminds me that those who love us don’t run. Those who love us strive to understand us, even if it’s an impossible task. And those who love us accept us, even when it’s hard. As people, none of us are perfect. We are all walking wounds, sometimes. I know that I am it, now. And it affects me more than I realized, until today. But we are not the sum of our losses. We are not what is absent. We are proof of what existed. And that proof, our memories and what have you, yields one important thing: hope.

And hell: I am my mother’s daughter. She taught me to be brave, to live without fear, to love without walls, and to believe to the very last breath. If nothing else, those old lessons can be relied on. Perhaps the old lessons are the best of all.

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  1. October 16, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I love you, Ali. You are beautiful and wonderful, just like what you’ve written. *hugs*

    • October 17, 2012 at 8:16 am

      I love you too, chica. Thank you for the compliment. Hugs back!

  2. October 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I’m sorry honey. I’m glad you wrote this today.

  3. October 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    “We are not what is absent. We are proof of what existed.” In spaz moments, in raw moments, in polished moments, in red lipstick wearing, asskicking moments; you honor what existed every single day just by being you. Sending lots of love and hugs, sweetheart. xo

    • October 17, 2012 at 8:16 am

      You are so very sweet, Blake. Thank you for what you said; that makes me feel better. Love and hugs back at ya!

  4. October 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    I think I’ve made all of those statements. 😦

    • October 17, 2012 at 8:17 am

      Jim, there is nothing wrong with those statements, inherently (except the relief one; that one is what really got me). Everyone reacts differently. No frownie faces!

  5. October 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Beautifully expressed sentiments. Also what Blake said!!

  6. October 17, 2012 at 9:49 am

    All these things that you miss are there because you had an actual relationship with this person (therefore there are actual things to miss, not just roles and platitudes). There are some cornball (on the surface) things I miss, and surprising (to others) people I miss, but it’s that real interaction with them.

    I have started thinking of the platitudes as entry points, though–somebody (like me) who feels awkward and doesn’t know what to say can read from the text and hopefully show that they care, or even get a conversation started.

    Building the new normal–hugs and best wishes. May you find some wonderful new things and rhythms and people.

  7. Liz
    October 17, 2012 at 11:20 am

    This was touching beyond what I can even say, because I dont want to be cliche. The part about rediscovering normal… Well… You are so, SO brave for continuing to try because that, I believe, must be the hardest part. But even just in general… You are one of the most courageous and inspiring people I know. The fact that you are so aware of the pain that your mom’s absence has created and that yet, you continue on forward (even despite stumbling) and you share with us these trials and realizations… Well that’s strength. That’s love….and damn, I admire you so much, stumbles and all. I’m not gonna say your mom would be proud… Because I know she already is. 🙂

  8. KOTWM
    October 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    It’s been a while since I stopped in. I’m sorry to hear that your mother died. I’ve been there too and I remember how jaw clench inducing hearing those words of comfort over and over again could be. Words are ill suited to accomplishing such a complicated and heavy task. To that end all I can say is that understand, partly from my own experience but mainly because your writing puts in in ways that anyone miles away from tragedy could grasp. Thank you for writing this.

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