As my mother was dying, I came across the picture that accompanies this post, a picture I’d never seen before. I’ve looked at it over and over and always feel two opposite things at once: a sudden recognition of some shared, yet indefinable characteristic and conversely, a curiosity about this beautiful woman that I’m not sure I ever met. And how could I? We were of different generations, different temperaments, and although we were close, we were also conflicted. So much that is essential, we can’t see, obscured by our individual short-comings and the daily-ness of it all. We see through dark mirrors during life. Perhaps I am learning to see her face to face.
During these months, I’ve thought a lot about the current “clinicalization” of grief. At eight months out, my grief should be resolved, according to the psychiatric establishment. [Here’s a good review article on the topic. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/pro-a0036836.pdf ] I should have integrated this loss into my daily life and my view of the world. Have I done that? By most any measure, the answer is yes. I am certainly not immobilized in the way the article lays out. And yet…
I would like to have one more day. One more day to sit with her and watch the sun move across the sky from her hospital room window, to hold her hand, brush her hair, to take care of her, to make sure she knew how much she meant and how much she was loved. But that is not how it works and, even if I had that day, it would not be enough. Relationships change and death is the ultimate expression of that. My task is to learn a new language, a mysterious grammar that keeps us connected even across an insurmountable gulf. But the elements of this language are different and hidden. They require every one of my senses and sometimes a sixth to decipher. I have to look and listen noticing the subtle ways in which she speaks.
I see her when our dog frolics with the ball she sent him, a toy he’s paid no attention to in months; I hear her when an aria from her favorite opera unexpectedly soars over the radio; I feel her strength when the morning glories reach the roof before succumbing to the year’s first frost; I learn about her through photographs I’ve never noticed. We speak our old language only in the occasional, fleeting dream.
Is all of this a “cure” for grief or an outcome of it? What remains when we’ve lost someone who is as much a part of us as anyone can be? I can’t be sure. I can only have faith that she is with me still, hope that I can embody all the good that she gave to me, and love that I give to others as it has been given to me. This must be enough and it is.