You died. A year ago today I was holding your dead hand. For hours I sat with your body as it blanched, as it grew cold. Your fingers were starting to not look like your fingers. I couldn’t stop crying. They came for you, to take you and I wailed. Because I knew I would never see your body again. Never feel the way your skin was so light, so soft, so loosely lovely on you, like petals. Your hair was still warm where it was nestled in the pillows so I buried my face there for a long time. The panic was rising and I was trying to keep it down but I knew they were on their way, strangers coming to take you.
You died. I know you know that. I don’t know what you know, but I can’t keep going unless I think that you know now, know more than you were able to before. You are not here and I miss you. Like an ache, like a bruise, like a break—somewhere in my body, everywhere in my body. Momma, you were my mommy. You were all that a child looks to. You held my hand, you brushed my hair. You stomped your foot when I did cause it just made you so mad. You listened when I told you I was scared. You held my head in your lap on the night you told me you would die, soon.
When I was 7 you told me to find a picture that made me peaceful and hold that in my mind when the scary thoughts wouldn’t go away. I thought of clouds in the sky floating by and I have always gone back to that place when I am afraid.
You told me your dreams and I told you mine. Once we had an almost identical dream on the same night about violence against someone we knew. Turns out that person was mugged that night. Strange, so strange, but that was us. Both of us knew things before we knew them. That was from you. You grew and you grew and you grew as I grew. You were a different person when I was 37 than when I was 14. I loved you then and now. You made me so mad sometimes. Remember the time I refused to eat dinner with you because you made me so mad? I think I was 20. I was such a ….. I was it all, wasn’t I?
You died, momma. You aren’t here. I think I’m just starting to let that sink in. It takes me awhile. It didn’t feel real for a long time. But you aren’t here. I’ve had so many things to tell you. E is doing so good this year. She’s still E but, mom, you would be so proud. She has settled into her little self – we found out more about how her little (big) brain works. It explains a lot. We started listening to her more and she started listening right back. Funny how that happens. And little e, she’s had a harder year. She cries all the time about things not being right, about how she can’t go back in time and make things “true” once they’ve already happened in a way she didn’t want. I am at a loss about this. I don’t know how to help her. She’s strong but she’s also sad sometimes. I know you see her. I know you see her more than I do. They love you so much. They talk about you. They miss you. Both of them cried in Moana when her Grandma comes back to remind Moana of who she really is. Both of them told me that’s what you do. Keep reminding them. Keep reminding them of who they are and always have been. Its hard for me to remember sometimes because they are…well, they are really loud. Remind me too.
The girls are like you. I am like you. I’m speaking now more. Using the voice that is so much like yours. I preached at church. Preached. I was so scared that I almost threw up in the car. But then I also loved it. It’s the weirdest thing. I have no idea where that leaves me, but I get to keep doing it and that’s good. I wish you were there. It was such a big moment for me. Sometimes I felt like you wished you could do the things I got to do – study, talk, help make decisions at church. Do this with me? This preaching thing? This studying, reading, praying, writing, exhorting, teaching, encouraging, pointing in a way that helps clear the fog, maybe, thing. In so many ways it’s a culmination of everything my life has been about so far—its blowing my mind a bit. But then its just preaching – its just talking in front of a small group of people I know about what I know and mostly what I don’t know about Jesus. But I’m a woman. And I’m preaching. I wish you were here. Sometimes I want to stick it to the men who told you to be quiet so bad. But I know I have to move forward past that too – they are just little humans after all. But I’ll keep preaching and pointing beyond myself, out past my own arm, and that will be our answer.
We miss you like we would miss our legs, like we would miss our eyes, like we would miss food – there’s never a minute we are not aware of it. Dad misses you. I can’t even speak to that – it hurts on a whole other level. I’ll let Dad write to you. But you were the love of his life. I know you knew that. The whole world saw it. What happens to that kind of love when it’s sawn in two. Where does it go?
C misses you. He’s a good brother, he calls me to check in. Oh and guess what? He’s getting married. Him and J got engaged in Greece. You would have been sufficiently jealous and happy, in that way you could be both. Who am I kidding, me too. We love J. She sat with me and you when your body was cooling. She came in, no hesitation and sat across the bed from me and watched you. She’s not afraid of being-with and she’s not selfish and it’s a good thing. She’s good for C. She reads a lot and pushes him and rolls her eyes while laughing in all the right ways at him. Her and B love sci-fi shows and books, not in the nerdy way but in the this-is-actually-deeply-true-way and she’s got it together. I think C will be fine. Stevie is still the cutest dog.
Ok, that reminds me – Henry. He cried all morning, that morning one year ago. We were getting all your stuff ready to go to hospice and Henry was whining all morning and trotting between your bed and us as we moved around the house. Then you left and he knew it. He stayed close. He did growl at Stevie later that day when she came into your room, but we let it go that once. Henry has been good for Dad. Gives him a push to look up maybe. Henry has been good for us. He lets the girls pet him and doesn’t bark at everyone who walks in the door—who would have ever thought?
Oh, and also, we got a bunny. I know, I know! You’re horrified. They don’t smell quite as much as you used to always say. Maybe I’m just used to it….But he’s litter trained! And he jumps so cute! And he’s so incredibly soft and I needed something small to love. I think you’d love him deep down. He’s black with tiny bits of silver – like you! Heh heh heh heh…The whole thing makes me laugh and feel quite pleased with myself.
We are all good, even now in the midst of it all. In some ways the roads our lives are on opened up for us. Maybe because living became clearer when death was forced into it. There’s not a lot of room left to dink around and be afraid. What’s the point? Maybe…. Still wish with my whole heart you were here to talk to about it all.
This past week has felt like I was reliving last year. I was reliving what it was like to hear the news about how radiation didn’t work. Your resignation, dad’s lost and quiet voice. Reliving what it was like to have it suggested that you go to hospice right away. Reliving shifting you in your bed, reliving walking around the oxygen cord. Reliving what it was like to be in the grocery store and have dad call me to come right away – you were in a coma. You were winding down. Your life – all that life you had– closing in on itself, like a flower shuttering for the night. Shuttering down only to be opened by something it didn’t even know could be possible – more than you could even imagine. Reliving the hours of holding your hand, crushing all that morphine into yogurt, reliving holding you in the washroom, reliving you waking up, smiling at me for the last time with your eyes when you couldn’t move anything else. Green, gray – solid eyes. Perfectly sculpted brows I was always jealous of. Lines like living lace around your eyes. Your freckles showing. You were so beautiful and I’m not sure you ever let yourself in on that truth. But you were. And you saw me, one year ago, your girl.
I relived it all this week. It made me so tired. I could barely move the day we put the rest of you in the ground on Friday. I hope nobody thought I was rude – I could barely move.
And all this has made me so sad about other losses that I would have shrugged off. Grief is good. It makes us actually account for the life in our hands. Friendships that have shifted and are changing are making me cry. Which means they were meaningful, which means I was living, which is what God calls good, right? It hurts though. Sometimes I don’t know how we all keep living, us humans. All this hurt. It doesn’t surprise me all that much that people lash out against other people. I hate it but I’m not surprised any more. You should see what is going on in the world right now. Oh mom, its incredible. The pain is intolerable and we are just making it worse.
And yet….. I’ve taught myself to say.
The gift of death, if you choose to call it that, is the woke-ness to life. If you let it be, I suppose. I suppose there is always the choice. But here, in your house, the house of us that you built, momma, there is a woke-ness. We are trying to honor death and what it does to us while at the same time honoring life, living life. Today I wept at your grave, like a baby, lying in the grass. I needed to be close to dirt and earth and what is left of you here. And then I had to go watch little e get her preschool certificate and sing a song about a slippery fish and then we went and ate ikea meatballs and bought organizers and I had more ideas for a piece on truth and public life that I’m working on and now I really need a nap …. Life.
A good life – real and normal and good and called. And death – the ache that remains always. All at the same time. I’m trying to honor life in what I put out there, what I say, how I say it. I’m trying to let your death be the ground that life comes out of – I’m trying to live out what you always said…
“God doesn’t bring anything good out of us, except by love.”
My anger, my disappointment, my bitterness – about your death, about losing you and your skin and your eyes, and about so many other things, about so many people and responses and blindnesses – most of all mine—all of that is only answered by love. Ever.
If I read how you taught me to read, if I pay attention the way you taught me to pay attention, if I forgive like you had to teach me through your very being, then all I have left is the answer of love. Not pillows and candles and cutesy mugs love – but forgiving, forbearing, sacrificing, listening, blind corner but believing the best, holding the ache kind of love. I’ve dipped one toe in. I truly have no idea, I know that. And I’m terrified at what embracing THAT kind of love means for the kind of loss I will hold in this body.
And yet…..I, we, all of us who loved you, we are not alone.
Today, one year ago, momma you died. Dad will write to you. C too, I’m sure. The girls made you necklaces yesterday. I can’t stop crying and my head is pounding. Missing you like this is really scary. But I’m living and I’m trying to choose life and trying to raise the living-ness of this bit of world around me. I wish you were here for it, though, I wish you were here.
Dear momma, I love you. You made me so much more than you or I could ever even know. Well, maybe you know now. Dad said on Friday that you were so much more than you knew, so much more than the parts of your life. That’s what you did for so many people. It must be obvious somewhere on that crown of yours….
Oh mom, I want to write more soon but I should go talk to our little e. She is colouring and jumping on couch cushions and poking the bunny all at once. But for today, the day you died one year ago, I just need you to know that I just miss you so much.
Love, your baby girl,