“I’m sorry to hear about your mother”
For the last two weeks of February, people would stop me and tell me that I have their condolences and that they’re praying for me. They told me to let them know if I needed anything. They would ask how I was doing.
All I wanted to ask them was ‘why?’ For a brief moment, every time someone would tell me they were sorry to “hear about my mother”, I was confused. Then, slowly, as a cold, gentle wave coming in on the beach, the memory would wash over me, reminding me of why.
Three months ago, my mother died.
When I was a kid, I would play around with the settings on the TV. I’d raise the contrast, adjust the color settings, and change just about every other setting you could for the picture. The result was a rather skewed picture, with some parts of the picture being subdued and almost washed out entirely, while others were accented, standing out prominently. Time has adjusted the picture on my mother’s memory. I can’t remember what she smelled like anymore, but I can still hear her laugh. I don’t remember what her hugs felt like, but I can still see the exact way she would cover her mouth while she was laughing when she was eating. What frightens me is that the “picture” is becoming more and more skewed every day, as time continues to march on.
After losing his wife to cancer, CS Lewis wrote a challenging, brutally honest, and vulnerable book named ‘A Grief Observed’. In it, Lewis reflects on a number of different feelings and observations that he is experiencing in the weeks and months after burying his wife. Among the observations, he talks about being afraid of losing his wives’ memory, as, after three months, she seems to be fading away from his life. His deepest fear is losing those memories.
Consciously, I know that I will never really lose all of the memories of my mother. They will change over time, but they will never truly fade away. But that knowledge hasn’t fully traveled from my head down to my heart. Emotionally, the fear remains.
But some memories will likely remain forever.
There was a painful loneliness in the moments immediately after I hung up the phone with Father Tom, who was the priest who found my mother. At that moment, I was the only person in my family who knew. My father, sister, wife, and aunts all needed to be notified. I had to fight my thumb to actually make those calls. For a few brief moments, I thought that if I didn’t tell anyone, if I just left it alone, then somehow my mother wouldn’t have died. Calling everyone came with a feeling of guilt, because by telling them, I was admitting that she was really gone. At the funeral service, I begged, pleaded, and hoped that somehow my mom would appear. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells a girl who has just died ‘Talitha koum’ – ‘Little girl, get up’. I wanted so desperately to shout that prayer, but I couldn’t.
I needed to face my new normal.
For those first few weeks, I felt nothing. And everything. Life felt muffled and subdued, weighed down like a wet blanket by my grief. Colors were less vibrant, both joy and sorrow were felt weakly, if at all. It was like my world had stopped turning, and I was moving in slow motion.
Sometimes people get hurt internally, or in a place where the body doesn’t really tell them their wounded. The damage is too deep for the nerves to tell the brain that something is wrong. For a month, I felt overwhelmed with numbness. The wound was too deep to feel.
Until it wasn’t. In those moments, I’d feel overwhelmed with anger and sadness. I was angry no one else world stopped like mine had. While I moved slowly and lethargically, everyone around me seemed to move on as if nothing had happened. It was unfair. Life didn’t slow down for me, even though I was stuck in slow motion.
In the months since, I have begun to feel that normalcy settle in. Colors have grown more vibrant. Both joy and sorrow are felt more intensely. And I finally am feeling like I’m almost back up to speed with the rest of the world.
I am far from done with grief. There will be quiet, unexpected moments that will stop me in my tracks. Odds are that I will have those little moments for years to come. Experiences that will be bittersweet because, even though we didn’t always get along, my mother is no longer here to share or celebrate them with me. She won’t get to see the house that my wife and I make our home. I’ll never get to introduce her to any grandchildren she would have had. She won’t see my wife graduate from my mothers’ alma mater with her masters.
My mom no longer suffers from cancer or it’s side effects. The confusion, hurt, and pain of this world no longer touch her. I trust that she is enraptured in the presence of God, and thus, oblivious to whatever affairs are going on here. And for that, I am thankful.
But I must admit that those sentiments do little against that slow, cold wave of grief. While there is a silver lining, I am firmly reminded of a quote from John Greene’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’
“That’s the thing about pain: it demands to be felt”.
In time, this grief shall pass. But for now, the process of healing requires feeling this pain.