A hole in cold soil was never dug, a headstone never carved. Instead, a maple box that fits on a mantle has all that is left of the physical body you were born into. In that way, I have nowhere to go to remember you – nowhere except the crashing waves on any ocean’s shore where we spilled some ashes a few years ago – but the walk to the sea is too far from where I live that I must find you elsewhere. I realize there are some whom claim you do not need a “place to go” to remember, but there are times when I realize why there are headstones 50 years old with fresh flowers laid on cool grass… A portrayal of your memory in this way causes me great grief now and I wish there were a place to go, some piece of dirt where I could unload this burden, weep on my knees, then get up and walk away – leaving if only even part of this sadness behind me.
All I have is that spot in my heart where this pain too slowly fades. My heart cannot be pulled from my chest and discarded. There is no separation from it when the only place you dwell is within me.
Time has healed some aspects of this; sensibly speaking, I do not focus on you all the time like I once did when the loss was still a gaping wound. You are a scar now, but one I wear without shame nor do I hide it; I speak of you fondly and cry for you openly as if my heart is stitched to the outside of my flesh for the world to see, where you are, forever a part of me.
When I realize I cannot reach out to you, hear your voice, or look into your eyes, this heart bleeds and stains me without ceasing. There are still times I pick up the phone and dial a number I should have made myself forget years ago. A habit, something so familiar the wretched truth of your absence makes me question my very sanity when I am five numbers in and realize you are not on the other end to answer your oldest daughter’s call.
What hurts the most is being under this cloud alone. Looking beyond the walls of my home, no other one of your children lives close by, dad is not just down the street, and the friends whom all knew and adored you cannot be summoned when I need a shoulder to cry on. I go through this alone. More often than I care to admit I wonder if God intended that solitary pain for me specifically; I am the only child of yours settled far away from where you were, and to the people who love me here, you are but a few words to them, “Christina’s mom.”
…. Then again, if we are considering solitary pain, the truth is – yes – quite emphatically, in fact, that I am the only one of your kids to have known certain pain even before you died. The fact that I am feeling this alone just adds to the truth that, for some reason, our relationship proved more complicated than what any of my siblings had to face – why should it be any different after you are gone? Now, in your absence, I am certain that life without you is more difficult than any life with you, but at least I am grateful that your death prevented any further pain, for you, for me and for anyone else in your path.
Right now, no matter what I dwell upon whether the pain of losing you or the problems we had before you left, the most simple reality is that I miss you. It is a vain attempt at best to pretend I do not care, or that I do not often think about you. More so, when the day is quiet and I am left to think, I have learned that even with time’s idle passing, there will never come a moment in this lifetime when I do not wish for just a single moment more.
Those who love me today tell me to pray about it, and to rejoice in the truth that you dance with God in heaven. Those whom have never lost a parent – and truer still, never lost a mother to alcoholism a few weeks after Christmas – I can only smile, say, “Thank you,” and go about my thoughts shelving their attempts to make me “feel better.” The truth is, it does not feel better, the pain is less than it was, but it will never be fully “better.” God knows with everything we went through, you and me, the memories are not designed that way.
On Thanksgiving, I cried for a good long while, and I rocked my new baby in my arms, my hot tears landing on her little onesie. I held her and promised that I will be the best mother I can possibly be. I cried while I held her, thinking of all the times I held you, all the times I was the strong one when you broke – when I had grown old enough to know what it means to put someone before myself – even when that person was the one who was, by virtue of her title, supposed to be caring for me instead.
I cried for everything you are missing – and for the strange and vivid circle of life – that my daughter’s will grow up only knowing you by dates, and by my mood around those days; that my mother was only 39, that my first daughter was born on the day she died, and that – every year, around Christmas time – I miss you more than ever. The circle of life that took your mother from you at the age of 13, and how it felt to be your daughter when you mourned her as we grew up, never understanding what that must have been like to lose a mother… My girls will wonder the same damn thing. I hate that. Especially for Layla’s sake.
The thing is, I realize as I am writing this, that I do have a choice. Pain, while very real and acute in this moment, is something I can control. I can CHOOSE not to let this get to me. I can CHOOSE to take my thoughts elsewhere and focus on more positive things. I am an imperfect woman, however, and at times the tendency to “wallow” in your memory simply overcomes any better sense I have to avoid it.
I can choose to rejoice that you are with God. I can choose to be thankful for the time we DID have, and choose to forgive you for every mistake you made. Knowing if God can grant such a reprieve, your daughter should not hold these things against you when the only one getting punished for your mistakes now is me. You are not here to “take it,” and even after six years, I still wear it on my sleeve.
It is a new day, after all, and no matter what I am feeling, I have a life to get back to. A home with people I love – eyes that look to me to be “better” for them. Eyes that beg of me not to let the torment of losing you make a bad day for everyone whom lives in our house. They do not understand, and I pray they never do…
I wear your memory proudly today, and I miss you so much, because after all is said and done, you were my mother. We only get one of those, and for a good long while, you were a great one. I cannot open my heart and remove you, set you in the cold sand, and step back into my life free from the burden of loving a mother who is gone… So, for now, I’ll just close my eyes, take in a deep breath, and thank God that you are free now. I will open my eyes again, exhale, and kiss my daughters – and I will be a better mother because my mother is gone.