My Mom died when I was thirteen. It was a random, completely fluke, car accident. She died instantly. As in one second she was telling me how excited she was about the day ahead of us, and the next she was lying dead on the road with bright red blood on her head. But that’s not the story that I want to tell here. That story is often told, often asked about. The story that’s not told very often, and definitely not asked about, is what happens afterwards.
I’m talking about after the sympathy flowers have died, after the extended family leaves to go back to their own homes, after the food packs from neighbours stop, after family and friends stop calling just to check up on how you dealing with things, after the people in church stop praying for “God to be a mother to the motherless, as he is a father to the fatherless”… after things eventually (and I’m talking YEARS before some of these things stop) return to the normal, quietness of your life ‘before’. Except that they don’t.
While everyone else seems to revert back to their normal lives with relative ease, you don’t. There’s this HUGE gaping hole now. It’s too quiet. Where there used to be someone who would call you at boarding school, who would sit and talk to you for ages as she tucked you into bed, who acted as a mediator between the different members of your family, who cooked the MOST amazing chicken and stir fries, who danced with your father, who hugged you whenever you wanted…. there is absolutely nothing. So much nothing. It’s completely deafening.
If I were to explain grief to someone, I would explain it as the simple act of adjusting to life without the person who has died. It’s really that simple. It’s about adjusting to and creating a life in which you can survive and be happy without that person. It’s about doing this so well that one completely shattering, horrifying day, you realise that if in some fairytale world your person were to come back into your life, you’re not quite sure where you would fit them. That there’s no longer any space for them. This sounds horrid and inhumane and unfeeling and utterly cruel and selfish, but it’s the only way you can survive. It’s the only way you can move forward with your life (as your person would undoubtedly want you to do). In order to have a life of your own, you HAVE to let go of the dead. You HAVE to sever the connection and make a life for yourself without them.
I can only write this, and only have this understand of grief, because I have been grieving for a long time now. Ten years. And while I now understand the process and what must be done, I’m still battling to do it. It still hurts. Because as rational as I’ve made that severing process sound, it’s that part that hurts you. Completely and utterly crushes you. Knocks the breath out of you. Wounds you in the very centre of your being.
For me, there are two distinct memories in that severing process. Despite what might seem like an obvious one, seeing her dead on the road, that wasn’t one. I was in too much shock. And of course completely unbelieving, or uncomprehending, of the fact that she was dead. The first real severing for me was at her funeral when they carried her coffin out of the church. At that moment the little girl who didn’t want to completely lose her Mom came out of me, without a care in the world for the mass of church people standing in silence, and cried out “Don’t leave me Mom! Please!”. That was the physical severing and separating that death inevitable brings. It completely broke me and to this day the memory still brings tears to my eyes.
But the moment that stands out for me, in all my years of grieving and crying, was one random day reasonably early on in my grieving process – somewhere within the first two years but at least months after she had died. There was nothing special or significant about this day, not an anniversary or anything, it just happened to be a day on which I was especially sad. I was alone at home, in my parents’/Dad’s bedroom (what do you call that room after it’s not technically hers anymore but it still is somehow?), sobbing my broken heart out. I started talking aloud to her, as if she was in the room with me, just trying to verbalise the ache I felt inside.
People have different ideas about what happens after death. But whether you believe that they go to some sort of spiritual realm or that they simply decompose and return to the physical properties of this Earth, there is still a continuation. They’re just changing their form – either to a spiritual entity or to the minerals and properties of this Earth that serve to further sustain other lives. In other words they are not completely gone. They’re still a part of the universe’s energy.
So I was sitting sobbing on my parents’/Dad’s bed, talking to my dead Mom, telling her how I missed her so much that I couldn’t breath anymore, that I had this huge, gaping, back hole inside my heart, that just needed to see her one more time. Just for a moment. I suppose I was appealing for her ‘ghost’ to show itself to me. I remember telling her that I knew she couldn’t hug me because she was a spiritual being now with no physical properties (I was trying to be vaguely rational about all this!), but that I just needed to see her for a moment. Get my fix as it were. Just one last time.
But she didn’t give me that fix. She failed me. Completely and utterly. I felt completely let down and utterly rejected. By my own mother. The one person who was supposed to be there for me when I needed her, even after death. I knew, even then, that that feeling wasn’t rational, especially considering that she died because she was there for me (she used her own body to shield me from the out of control car heading our way). But emotions, and especially grief, is not rational. I felt what I felt, and that’s ok.
I realise now that as painful as that moment was (as much as it left a life-long scar), that moment of failure, that moment of permanent severing, it was necessary. It was necessary because it convinced me that there would be no circumstances in which I would see her or have any kind of ‘normal’ mother-daughter relationship with her ever again. And so it forced me to let go of her and so begin to build and make my own life, independent of her, (as she would have wanted me to).
Knowing what I must do, and actually doing it are two different things. Don’t get me wrong, I have done it. It’s true, very occasionally I still sometimes want to call her when I’ve had a bad day, but for the most part (over years and years) I’ve made a life for myself in which I don’t automatically think of her as my ‘go-to’ person, my Mom who’s always there for me. I’ve made a life without her. As I should have. I’ve made a wonderful, thriving life for myself. I still cry though because I miss her. And I still sometimes feel like I have that big, gaping hole in my heart. But I’m ok with that. I’m ok because I’ve realised that those feelings, those painful missing feelings, are still there because, despite my best efforts, the connection between us has NOT been completely severed. And that is wonderful.
The memories have faded and I sometimes battle to recall details like what she looked like, what her voice sounded like, the way she moved, her facial expressions, or the way she smelled. But the one thing that doesn’t fade, and I doubt ever will, is the feeling of her. The feeling of the kind of person she was. The feeling of how she made me feel. The feeling of how we were together. In other words the love. I realise now that the love connection between us can NEVER be severed. Can NEVER be taken away. Not even death has taken that away. Not even ten years has taken that away. And that is the most wonderful, celebratory thing that I know.
“Love [truly] is stronger than death.”