Only do not forget, if I wake up crying it’s only because in my dream I’m a lost child hunting through the leaves of the night for your hands… – Pablo Neruda
8 years ago today, my little brother held my mother’s face and spoke sweetly, guiding my mother. I laid my right ear on her chest and I heard her heart slow then stop. A last sigh. Then she flew. She became everything.
Oh how I love you, Mamma. I see you more and more in my face, in my body. I welcome each sag, each wrinkle, each change in my bones. Your fingers are my fingers (on my right hand), your laugh is mine (and the parrot’s), your worn out recipe book has butter and flour stains and smells like your kitchen. When I hold Henrik and Vivienne, I feel you holding them as well. You whirl around the family and your spirit and love fills the room.
I still reach for the phone to call you. I want to talk to you about cleaners and the latest soup recipe with you. I want to have you lie on your bed with Asterix as I sort your closet and we laugh at sweaters we have held on to. I want to hop in the car with you and Tobey or Tina or Milton and walk for hours in the forest hunting for mushrooms.
I want to pull out all my Molly research and discuss it with you, head to Molly’s grave and have a picnic. I want to cook with you as the kids lounge in your bedroom watching cartoons. I want to pull out the furniture and dust behind the couch and weed the garden as we gossip and laugh. I want to spend full days in Fort Langley.
I no longer pursue your dreams on your behalf; I pursue mine as you truly always wanted me to do.
You feared to lose me, but you never did.
And as I become more and more myself, I become more and more your love.
Look at the legacy you created.
You are love. You are beauty. You are motherhood. You are the greatest mystery.
For me, it is impossible to quantify grief. To qualify it. To define it. It comes as a surprise. It comes as a wave. It comes suddenly. Or it comes on slow. It can feel like nostalgia, anger, sadness, gratitude, drowning. It can be triggered. It can be low grade. It can be reassuring. It can be overwhelming.
Journal entry: November 3, 2012
The emotion of missing. What is it?
Saudade is a unique Portuguese word that has no immediate translation in English. Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again… It can be described as an emptiness and the individual feels this absence… In fact, one can have ‘saudades’ of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. source
As the numbness wears off after Dad passed away on October 25, I find myself longing for that numbness again. Now I feel the familiar sense of fear- sort of like walking on a unsteady pier or a balance beam that wobbles or a tightrope over a waterfall. I am flooded with thoughts of doubt. Did I do enough? Should I have been more aggressive in getting treatment for Dad earlier? Should I have taken him for more walks in the electric wheelchair? Was he lonely and scared at the end? These are expected thoughts. I know that. They are not to be avoided or feared. It’s the process we all experience as we walk through grief. I get it. I dare to look. But it hurts.
My various experiences of loss and experiences of grief are not like yours, or hers, or his or theirs. Mine takes up a different space, shape, beyond time. Shifting, eternal. Each one of our personal truths are unique. Profound.
And as saudadic waves wash over me, I find it healing to explore:
SOME PORTRAITS OF GRIEF
August 2, 2016: Living Grief is the profound journey of ongoing loss; where we can neither grief nor celebrate. Yet, our loss is palpable. We feel it wrapped around our throat choking back vulnerability we’ve not ever experienced before. We journey through acceptance, make friends with physiological depression, butt up against anger, bargain with whoever or whatever holds our conscience…ultimately, finding the sweet spot of denial where we can see and be what ‘is’ and live in the joy of where we are at on our journey with our loved one. My gorgeous daughter, Sophia, turns 16 tomorrow…16 years more than we expected to have her, 15 years later with a palliative designation. Tomorrow I will be swallowed up in denial…and will let joy breathe for me, filling up my lungs until I can cry no more and the melancholy rocks my broken heart to sleep. It is like a play…and even though we know there will be a final act, we so desperately cling to the idea of it being never ending, no matter what.
… If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back.
But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.
You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are… Read more
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear…
For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time. – A Grief Observed
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart? – Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3, Page 3
Encompass’d with a thousand dangers,
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors… I… in fleshy tomb, am
Buried above ground.
There will be a moment where a memory will hit, or a milestone day, or just a moment of being overwhelmed with something seemingly unrelated… and grief pops up again. AND THAT IS OK!!! More than ok… this is normal… your sadness about your loved ones death is normal… Your grief is normal and essential for your healing. There is no wrong way to do grief other than to pretend it isn’t there… Denying grief is the same as trying to convince your subconscious that there was no love here, no good times to remember, and this person meant nothing to me. READ MORE
There is a sanity to grief… given to all, [grief] is a generative and human thing…it acts to preserve the self.
All of a sudden, all I want to do is organize mom’s closet, as she lies on the bed and chats with me, the parrot cuddling her hand, Tobey on the floor below, with Grey Gardens on in the background.
Grief hits me when I least suspect it, with a solitary evening walk, letting the dog meander where he wants, with that first drop of rain. It hits me sideways and bores into my bad ear, and worms its way down to right below the sternum, to that place between the heart and the gut. Then moves up through the trachea, into the sinuses then makes the neuralgia flare. My eyes feel swollen and the tears want to come. But they don’t. Not yet.
I saved my mom’s dishrag. It rests on my mantle like some kind of sacred heirloom. That dishrag she’d rub obsessively over the counter if she was upset, or cleaned the birdcage with, Oprah on in the background, or washed a stain off my shirt as we got ready for the film fest.
But why just tonight, why now? What is it about this moment that makes loss so palpable? So intermingled with nostalgia and gratitude?
I’m working on a book with Dad and it’s a beautiful process. It’s about maintaining connections through art and with art.
But as Dad goes through his past, and I take dictation and notes…
… I am filled with nostalgia for a life passed, I am filled with the heaviness of missing my mom.
I can sense I am anticipating losing Dad…
even my old dog, Tobey.
Anticipating. Anxious. Process.
I know that life is always fluctuating and sometimes we are stronger than other times. Sometimes we feel power-ful and other times power-less. Sometimes we hold on so tight, we strangle the moment. I’m learning that all of it is OK. There’s no right or wrong. Only splendid imperfection.
The anxiety that wells up, though, requires some tools so it doesn’t take hold and cause a depression.
And by now, through lots of practice, I have a pretty good toolkit that I carry around with me.
So I embrace the memories. Ride through heart ache. Sit with the moment. Grateful for being able to love and be loved and thus not be immune to loss, nostalgia and sentimentality.
“Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love – from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter- to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behaviour of nebulae(whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time.”