My Mama died on December 27th, just 11 days ago. I can hardly believe it. How can she not be here any more? It feels so strange. I used to call her in the mornings on the way to work, back when she was feeling better. On Wednesdays she would say something like, “The weekend’s almost here!” all cheerful like because she knew I was looking forward to the end of another work week. She knew I would rather be doing other things with my creative time …creative gift and passion I got from her.
I can still hear her voice in my head. I can hear her say “night-night” the way she used to do. I am indescribably grateful for modern technology and the regrets I heard from those whose loved ones had passed earlier. How they wished they had recorded their voice. How they wished they had video of their loved one. Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. I have her beloved Pinky voice telling me how much she loved me and how much I helped her. I have video after video of her telling her stories to me. She loved to tell stories.
How does my life go on without my mama? I know people do it all the time. They have been doing it for millennia. When my dad died, it wasn’t like this. I missed him, but it was different. With my mom there is a little girl emptiness, an aching hole in my heart. There is a void that cannot be filled, only tended to while it builds a scar. And that I have been doing; lovingly tending to myself. I have stayed in my pajamas all day. I even went to a New Year’s party in pajamas. They were Pinky’s, actually. Heavy white flannel with black dog paw prints on the pants. I have gotten a massage. I have drawn baths with bubbles and good scented oils. I have lit candles and played healing music. Once while in the tub, I played The Velveteen Rabbit narrated by Meryl Streep with music by George Winston. I lay in the warm, soothing water and sobbed. It was just what I needed.
Today is my first day back at work. The students return tomorrow. I am feeling resistant. I want to stay in my cocoon. I want to curl up and cry. I want to stay in my pajamas all day. I want to build a wall around me and not answer phone calls. I want to carry a Kleenex box and wipe my unceasing tears. I want to bring up torn cardboard storage boxes from the garage and go through endless photographs.
Last night I slept through the night for the first time since my trip to Miami to say goodbye to mom. I’m dreaming though, just like the article on grief said. I’ve had a few bad dreams. I guess you could call them nightmares. They were disturbing enough to wake Michael and ask him to hold me as a result.
Today is the first day back at work with the students. Yesterday was tougher than I expected. When I walked in the front doors, I went to check my mailbox. Cheryl saw me, and just the action of her looking at me and rising from her desk to come hug me made me break down in tears. Then there I was talking about the experience while she stood there saying nothing and looking uncomfortable. I cried off and on most of the day.
Another unexpected occurrence was that the sisters and Louie and I texted all day long about the grief and our personal struggles throughout the day. It seemed strange and unusual for us. I could tell he was elated. Apparently mom had asked him to “keep the family together”, which is in itself a tall order. I am certain mom was the glue that held the sisters together. I’m not convinced we all like each other that much. In fact, it’s true that I never once went to visit Kat in Miami, nor did I ever have intention to do so until mom got sick. Kat stood before me when I flew out, tears in her eyes, looking extremely vulnerable and said, “I’ll never see you again.” I was struck by the truth of her words, and I felt sadness and compassion. Days later, in a text, Louie implored us all to stay together, to make a promise/commitment to stay connected as a family. Even Dona made the promise. I couldn’t help but wonder which ones really considered their actions and were willing to do the work to follow through. It was not a promise I took lightly. I am not certain, even now, of my own success with it.
So, my mom is gone and I miss her. I miss hearing her voice tell me “night-night.” I miss talking to her on the phone on the drive to work early in the a.m. It’s what broke me open yesterday morning as I pulled out of the driveway in the darkness. I miss her calls when she was struggling with feeling less-than, and how she would tell me how much better she felt after talking to me. I miss her singing Happy Birthday to me on the phone all those years of birthdays. I miss her laughter. I miss her story-telling. I miss her more than words can or ever will describe. I miss you, mama. I just can’t believe you’re gone.
Last night, before going off to bed, I listened to her voicemail messages again. I listened to her familiar Pinky voice tell me how much she loved me and how much I have helped. You see that verb tense. It’s one of the odd things one struggles with when a loved one dies. “Have” helped her… not “had”.
Listening to them brought a loud sound from within me. A wailing. Max got up from his dog bed and came over next to me and lay at my feet as I cried. Perhaps it is a new ritual… listening to her voice before I go to bed. I only wish I had one of her saying “night-night” the way she used to. In my crying, I decided to call a sister to reach out. I decided to call Billie. I have never reached out to her like that, not really. But when I was with her this last time in Miami, staying at mom’s condo, we had some very precious time one on one. Precious to me anyway. So I called her. I got her voicemail and left a message telling her I loved her and was thinking of her… telling her I was missing mom and thought to call and connect. Then I sent a simple text message to all my 5 siblings saying only “night-night”. I got one response. Gay Carney texted in reply: "Love you all too!” I was hoping there might be a flurry of texting between siblings the way it was my first day back at work and we all stayed connected through technology saying how our day of grief was going. Texting things we remembered and were missing. Part of me was excited thinking, “oh! Maybe we will stay connected in a new way now. Maybe this really will be the start of something new.” I felt sad then when only Gay Carney texted in reply and no one else.
This morning when I woke up, the ache and realization, the remembering that she’s gone felt somehow less intense, more dulled even. I thought to myself how some part of me doesn’t want the ache to go, to be dulled, because it seems she will be even farther from me. But I know it’s what happens. It’s how the human body handles it. It’s part of the process.
More dreams last night. It’s funny, I haven’t had a dream that I remembered, or the realization that I had dreamed, for a long time. Now it seems I dream every night. That’s what I read…that when people grieve the loss of a loved one their dreams intensify and are more frequent. Mine don’t seem to even be related on the surface. The first few nights after her death I didn’t sleep except what felt like a few small breaks intermittently. It felt like sleep for 30 minute spans, or perhaps an hour at a time, but not really sleep at all. Every time I woke, I woke hearing the song I sang at her bedside or the Carly Simon song we played on the way to drop flowers in the ocean in her memory. This morning I don’t remember my dreams, but they are right there, my awareness of them.
Part of me is mad at her, you know, mad at her for leaving me. It feels little girl-like. I hear myself saying inside my head, “Mama, please don’t leave me!” I think of our phone calls and my chest aches with longing for her. I long to hold her hand, to sit beside her and talk, to listen to her tell the stories she loved to tell again and again. No, she was not the mother I wanted. No, she was not there for me so many times in the way I wanted and needed her to be. …But she was the mother I got, and I grew to love her as the mother I had. As a grown woman, I began creating a relationship with her that was so very precious to me that I let go of old wants. I was able to let go and to love, with a great big Pinky kind of love, the woman my mother was.