grief is a new celebration

My teeth cracked into tiny flavorless Altoids, swimming around in my mouth before I reluctantly spit them out into the white sink basin. I ran my tongue across the smooth caverns of my gums and clenched my stomach. I fished the basin for a full tooth, but as I found them they crumbled and rolled from my fingers. Clammy hands pressed against the salmon tiles of my bathroom, I hoisted my head to meet my reflection in the mirror. I awoke, dewy with sweat.

With liturgical diligence, I lit a candle and knelt before my mother’s urn. I plucked it from its base atop my grandfather’s coin collection box and held it, cold, in my palms. I kissed it and kissed it and kissed it, the metallic pearl flavor comingling with the taste of fresh tears.

I poured through a 2012 datebook I had once gifted her, caressing the presses of her pen. On days she had nothing on her calendar, she wrote about the dreams she had the night before.

I grabbed the candlestick and crept to the computer, where I listened to a handful of the voicemails she left me that I had saved. I first listened to the one I had saved as “laughter,” the only one I had that had captured her infectious belly laugh. I played it twice and began to write about the dreams I had the night before.

Grief is a new celebration. It is finding your own way to honor the once effortless days with new rites and rituals. It is bravely walking through the Hallmark aisle at Walgreens the week before Mother’s Day. I ask: what new customs have you begun to remember loved ones on days such as this? What customs can you no longer have?

Here’s to you on Mother’s Day, Mom.

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grief is april 24

All too quickly, two years have come and gone. Under my apartment stairs, the rhododendron bush blooms. Daylight waits for me to get home.

My mom died while I was at work, on the morning of April 24, 2014. I can still look through my sent folder from that day. Combing through the eight composed emails, I can feel that day’s coffee on my tongue. I can smell the french toast searing on the grill. I can hear the sounds of the juicer whirring as it chews up carrots and vomits rainbows of pulpless liquid. The register slams and the dishwasher rumbles. My coworkers cackle in the kitchen.

I remember receiving a call from my mother’s phone and taking note to call her on my lunch. I flipped my phone over to stay focused. Minutes later, my phone wriggles as it vibrates on my desk. I take a peek at the screen. My older sister is calling.

Suffice to say, this was unusual. I jammed my phone into my pocket and freshened my coffee. “‘Going out for a break!” I announced aimlessly, my voice steadier than I’d expected.

I anxiously walked down the alley behind our building. I’d walked down the alley practically every day since 2011. Tiny raindrops freckled the ribbed grey concrete. My guts sank as I neared my destination – a small cove, safeguarding a maze of utility pipes and meters. The pipes hissed as I crossed my legs and leaned my back against the frigid marbled wall. I stared at the two missed call notifications. Reticent, I double-tapped my sister’s name.

When I heard the news, I let out a long, primal cry. I asked, “how?” repeatedly as we sobbed and apologized and uttered confused condolences to one another. I braced the walls along the alleyway, crawling back up the slow incline toward the cafe, stopping only to catch my breath and revel in the permanence of what had happened.

It is hard to believe this Sunday will mark another year without her. I will light my candles and toast to her but in the night I’ll look over the water at the Western sky and remember the first time I witnessed a sunset my mother had not.

Grief is April 24. It is January 14. It is September 9. It is June 26. It is a favorite holiday or a birthday. It is the days that remind you the days in between have come and gone. It is also the days in between.

I leave you with one question: on what days do you mourn?

grief is wet laundry

I braced myself against the washing machine and stared into the dark bundt-cake-tin-shaped pit. My eyes glossed over the blurring, knitted swirl of my damp clothes. The legs of my jeans licked the rib cage of the machine. The thick, syrupy fume of detergent clung to the air. I leaned into the pit and gingerly scooped out a bevy of towels. Socks tumbled from the cluster back into the pit.

The wrung towels sagged, lifeless in my arms. As I laid them into the dryer, I tried to shake a germinating thought. In this mundane moment – where no letters or songs or pictures or candles could haunt me – here, my grief was. Here, my mother was. Here, I wept into soggy rain-scented hands.

Anger swiftly followed suit. I wondered when this unbridled sadness would subside. I lamented that I would never be free from this overwhelming sense of loss. What was it that brought the furrow to my brow and the wetness to my eyes? I kicked the dryer. The metal popped like a mason jar top, thundering as it reclaimed its shape.

A bird’s wings fluttered against the laundry room window as it took flight from the sill. I glanced out at the background, eyeing the day’s uncharacteristic sunniness. I pressed the dryer lid closed, eyes still transfixed on the daffodils in bloom. I remembered how they had wilted the week my mother died. Yet here they were again, canary yellow and petals poised to drink in the afternoon.

I am growing to understand that my grief will come and go as it pleases, and that I must actively move myself towards understanding what it means to me in each moment.

Grief is heavy yet everyday.

Tell me about a recent moment you’ve had that was mundane yet meaningful.

grief is a new chapter

The holiday season changes dramatically when you’ve lost a loved one. Grief invites itself to your table. It sits in an empty chair.

Pouring through similar blogs and posts, I’ve found that Thanksgiving and Christmas strike a solemn chord with most bereaved Americans. Though these holidays are significantly different without parents, for me, the approach of New Year’s Eve/Day has induced a tremendous amount of anxiety.

Last year I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a handful of close friends on a boat docked on Lake Union. A few minutes before the countdown, we scurried to the deck to survey the area for a proper vantage point. I shivered as I drew a swig of sweet champagne into my mouth. I tongued the bubbles, pressing them against the back of my chattering teeth. A canopy of fireworks erupted above the Space Needle. Sparks rained down on the city. Smoky air wriggled around the deck as it rose from the boardwalk below. Couples snuggled. Corks, wrenched from their cozy bottlenecks, released great bursts of sound followed by the fizzle of carbonation and an overwhelming sense of newness.

I masked an ashy sigh under the explosions. This would be the last day I could say “I spoke to my mom earlier this year.” In a few moments, this narrative would change, never to return to recency. In the closing seconds before 2015 began, I whispered farewell to that phrase. Uninvited came my new narrative: “My mom died last year.” 2014 would no longer be this year, but the year I lost my mom.

The next morning, I was shocked to find that my wall calendar had gathered dust. I went to dismount it from the nook near my front door and my fingers slid through its feathery film like children through virgin snow. I stared at my grimy fingertips in horror. Time did not stop that April and here on my hands was the unsettling evidence. I panicked. Was my loss so long ago?

This year left me with a liminal sense of my loss being so near and yet also so far gone. One day I’ll not open the door to the heartache and the next it will crash through and come to swallow me up without warning.

Colette – my mother’s favorite author – once said:

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

This I find to be unequivocally true. I read this and I feel the calendar dust between my fingers as one would a phantom limb or an olfactory memory. I think of those Tuesdays I spent crying into an envelope I’d kept with my name in her writing. I think of our stoic faces at our meeting with the funeral home.

On the first anniversary of her death, we spread my mother’s ashes in a dewy evergreen cove behind my sister’s house. When we emerged from the thicket, an ethereal rainbow – quite uncharacteristic of Washington, despite our rain – split the heavens above us:

image

At that moment, more so than January 1, it felt like a new year. Perhaps it was the breathtaking dichotomy of the darker and lighter skies before us. Regardless, my narrative had changed yet again, and I experienced it quite differently – I nigh embraced it. It gave me an uneasy hope. In that moment, I accepted that every moment will usher in a new mystery of uncertain changes.

Grief is a new chapter. It is cloying, heartrending, bitter, and unyielding. It only begins after something ends. It is uncharted, but holds the promise of new happiness and a reverence for the past.

I leave you with one question:

What or whom do you leave behind this year? 

 

grief is [procrastination and] the fear of being loved

It’s been over a month since I posted the title to what I thought would be my first blog post – “grief is a stolen pocket knife.” Each day I come back to it wanting to expound on my fury, anxiety, and feelings of utter bereavement, but find myself held back by what I now believe to be a fear of being loved. I make excuses (“I’m writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month so I shouldn’t have to write about my grief!”) and push it off until the date is so far out I become embarassed that I even thought anyone wanted to read my writing in the first place. Then I remember: people do want to read my writing in the first place. Is it that I’m afraid they’ll like it, or even love it?

I received three texts from my good dear friend Sally a few weeks ago:

Sally: Where the content!

Sally: *where is

Sally: Just excited to see what you will write 

How was I going to tell her that the night before I sat crying at my keyboard, wanting so badly to share yet felt completely paralyzed with the fear of being loved? She, a blossom of wisdom, would tell me how silly I was being.

Why does one fear being loved when they have experienced loss? 

The answer to this question undeniably varies for each person experiencing grief. In my case, connecting with others made me feel vulnerable and afraid that I’d sully the strong image I’d made for myself. Could I be stoic if I let people know what a mess grief could make me? I knew I had great plans for my blog – that eventually I’d write about the habitual everyday things like brushing your teeth or binging on Netflix because life doesn’t stop after you lose someone you love. I wanted to normalize grief and create a space for sharing the undiscovered crevices of this robust and inescapable part of life. To do that, though, I couldn’t overlook the harder parts of grief.

What was so triggering about writing about the pocket knife?

How could I express how robbed I felt the day someone broke into our car and took one of the very few earthly gifts that my mother gave me before she died? The easy answer would be to write unconditionally – to drown out the editor in my brain that hates this very sentence (and the ones before it). The best way to do that, I concluded, would be to let myself make mistakes.

Grief is [procrastination] and the fear of being loved. For there to be procrastination, though, there needs to be an end product (otherwise it’s just not doing anything at all). This first post is what I’ve postponed. I leave behind a crack in my fortitude by refraining from deleting my incomplete first post. I spurn my inner editor and press publish without abandon.

I leave you with one question:

What fear do you have right now, and what is it preventing you from doing?