My mother passed a month ago today. To commemorate this, I’m deviating from the Queer Theology discussion to bring you the following post about grieving.
When your mother is dying, you will become experienced at dealing with “the conversation killer.” You’re back in your hometown after traveling and living in other locales for so long that when you run into people you know, the inevitable question arises about what you’re doing. After awhile, you’ll stop trying to avoid the subject, not because out of some noble purpose of honesty and transparency but because there’s some sort of morbid, trollish pleasure in knowing you can end an awkward conversation in seconds.
You will forget how to respond to the question “how are you?” You know that no one really wants to know, but there’s a small but vocal part of you that wants to yell at the asker for being insensitive, for asking something of you that you cannot honestly answer without causing a scene. But you will remind yourself that they are just following social niceties, and, no, the barista at Starbuck’s does not need to hear you say “My mother’s dying, actually.”
When the day actually comes, you will sit on your couch and eat pita chips and hummus straight from the tub because you cannot think of anything else to do and you just bought a fresh supply. It will taste good and you will feel guilty for taking pleasure in something your mother thought was gross.
Over the next week, you will want nothing more than to be alone and with someone at the same time. You will call your neighbor and he will sit on the floor with you in silence, understanding but not quite because you’ve only known each other for a month but he was the only person around and you just need a warm body because you’re afraid to be alone.
You will get so used to hearing “I’m so sorry for your loss” that it will lose all meaning. You will become a robot, doing something, anything, volunteering to help with things you would normally hate to do, just so you’re not sitting there making awkward small talk with relatives who are papering over the fact that they and your mom were not actually close.
You will not cry. And you will be surprised that you are not crying and begin to wonder if something is wrong with you.
You will go to the funeral home to help prepare for the memorial service and see your mom looking very peaceful but somehow wrong and you realize – because you watch too much television – that her lips are glued together and her make up has been adjusted just so.
You will touch her hand and pull back because it’s cold and your mom’s hand shouldn’t feel cold. It is now that you will cry.
But by the time people arrive – strangers from your past, which feels like another world – you will have composed yourself. You will have once again taken on the part of being the strong daughter, the one who cared for her in her last year of life, and the one who is bravely holding it all together now. You will shake people’s hands, accept awkward hugs, and look a little lost because no one ever gave you instructions for how you’re supposed to behave during the memorial service for your mother. You will feel sick to your stomach for most of the evening.
The next day, you will get irrationally angry at a lady on her cell phone who cuts you off during the funeral procession. You will try to laugh it off, but you know now that your memory of your mom’s funeral will not be what was said during the service or the hymns that were sung, but this lady in an SUV, barging through the funeral procession in front of you, oblivious to what just happened.
You will sit at the gravesite, knowing that your mom is in that casket but wanting to open it up again just to double check. The pastor will hand you a flower that you will not know what to do with, so you will put it in an empty Coke bottle when you get home and stare at it.
You will become the girl who just lost her mother. Everyone who sees you will think they have to mention it, to express their condolences. The last thing you want is condolences from strangers, but you will be polite and accept their “I’m sorry’s” with as much grace as you can muster, which feels like very little these days.
You will return to your daily routine, unsure how to allow yourself to grieve, so you don’t change your routine at all. Then, two weeks later, you will want to tell your mom about something good that happened and realize that you can’t. You are close with your dad but you were much closer to your mother and you know that he will not celebrate things in the same way she would. Every new thing, every new accomplishment, will now carry a tinge of sadness.
And you will find yourself wondering, selfishly, when you will be done grieving. And yet, you also know that the day you are done, the day you are happy, you will have lost something.