Monday, January 10, 2011

A Thousand Little Quiet Devastations

NOTE: I'm continuing to release these old posts, the ones that I wrote right after my mother's death. I'd thought about refining them, editing them, but I won't. It'd be false. I'd be gilding them with a perspective gained in these last three months, and that wouldn't be true to the feeling behind them. Don't misunderstand: the feelings that motivated the writing are still here, a little reduced by time, like a sauce that's been simmering. But those feelings still overflow this inadequate vessel unexpectedly and often. Anyway I leave the old posts incomplete, because that's how I feel these days: incomplete.

Life is a series of befores and afters. Watershed moments, some call them. In the before, you reside in ignorance or anticipation, and in the afters, oh those afters.... The afters run the gamut between joyous and devastating, and right now, my feet are firmly planted in devastated terrain.

My mother passed away on New Year's Eve, 2010, the before-iest day of the year. The after will last the rest of my life. And in this after, I'm finding that the little devastations pierce my heart most thoroughly. Maybe it's because the big ones are too much right now, and I can wrap my head around the little ones more easily. Who knows? And maybe it's because the little ones seem like they will be unending, some daily, innocent reminder of my loss. I'm compelled to document them, though, because I don't want to forget, these things that blindside me with sadness.

Chancing on a photo of a smiling her that rests on my digital camera from my daughter's birthday in November...

Finding her voter registration card from 30 years ago in her wallet, a token of our former residence, the home that served as a backdrop to all of our childhoods...

Putting together the digital slide show of her life for the funeral services, her life flashing before my eyes. And in those photos, seeing unending delight in her eyes... How had I not seen that before? What a happy woman she was? What a contented woman she was? And beautiful. How did I not realize how beautiful she was?

Realizing that my last real conversation with her, when I knew that she knew she wasn't confusing me with someone else, was about gifts she wanted to get my children for Christmas.

Watching my older sister give her permission to die, telling her that we'd be okay, and that we'd miss her, but that she didn't need to put herself through this anymore.

Shopping in the infant aisle at the pharmacy, desperate to find any tools that might help us feed her better, and settling on baby spoons and eyedroppers.

Spoon feeding her water when she could no longer sip from straws. Then moving to sponging water into her mouth when she could no longer sip from a spoon.

Hearing my father tell the hospice chaplain that she'd already received Extreme Unction.

Holding her hand when she died.

Realizing that none of the dresses from the weddings of her children would really fit properly because she'd lost so much weight in the past couple of weeks.

Seeing the blanket that I'd purchased for her for Christmas, that covered her all during her stay in hospice, draped over her recliner at my parents' home.

Going through her jewelry and not knowing if the detritus mingled among the gold -- a Lite Brite peg, a barrette, a Lego -- were casual reminders of our childhoods, or evidence that she never cleaned out that jewelry box.

My daughter, hugging the photo album of her Baptism to her chest as she slept, the night before my mother died. There were several pictures of the two of them together in that little album.

Seeing that my father has started using Mom's side of the bed as a way station for paperwork, which I interpret as his needing to fill that space with something, anything.

My daughter, hearing me sniffle, say that I shouldn't be sad because Grandmom wasn't in pain anymore and is in Heaven, something I certainly hadn't said to her (but her daycare provider had, showing me that my daughter required some comfort that I hadn't provided).

My brother's voice quavering as he read
Ecclesiastes 3:2 during her funeral service.

Seeing the mausoleum space, the "filing cabinet," as Mom called it, swallow up her casket as the three burly graveyard workers pushed it to the back.

Finding the dress that Mom had requested she be buried in, after the fact, tucked away in a drawer far away from the hanging rack, where she'd told me it rested back in the Fall.

There's more. There will always be more. I pan my day-to-day life for the sad elements, surprising myself when I don't uncover them, annoyed with myself that I can't just eat Butterscotch Krimpets without analyzing if they make me upset because Mom liked them too.

This year, her absence will render all sorts of firsts and milestones bittersweet. I'm okay, all things considered. It all happened in a year. ONE YEAR. Her first brush with a health problem, one that required being seen by a doctor, was last April. She had a chest cold, was exhausted beyond anything else she experienced, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. She couldn't go to my nephew's first birthday party the first weekend in May because of it, but was recovered enough by mid-month to go to my son's Baptism. Then July, the diagnosis came, the ensuing flurry of treatments and tests and meetings, the supposed all-clear in November, and then her rapid decline and death in December.

I'm still reeling. I think I'm okay, then something stupid will punch me in the gut, like last night when I made chicken parmigiana, one of the meals in her rotation of Sunday dinner menus.

I think I'm where I'm supposed to be. My mother died. It's awful. I'm allowed to be sad, and I don't paint on a smile to fake it 'til I make it or anything like that. But the sadness hasn't trumped all else. It's not who I am. Who I am is my mother's daughter, with an outrageous work ethic, and a ferocious need to make sure things are stable for the family. Doing those things makes me feel better. I feel the grief when it surfaces, I push off feeling it 'til it's more convenient. I function. I find joy in life,I laugh with my kids, I delight in my husband and family, I cook dinner, help with homework, fold laundry, scrub bathrooms, take walks, go on dates, laugh at movies, take bubble baths, lose myself in a good novel, put photo albums together, help my sister look for houses when she moves back, go to work. I don't ask what the point of everything is, I haven't suddenly gone all churchy or gotten angry with higher powers.

But this... This has been awful. There's no way around that. One of my friends, someone who's been through this, which is really the only way I think you can understand it, wrote me the best note. She said, "Your mother deserved more time. You deserved more time with her."

So very, very true.

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