The last time I wrote at length in this space I was unmarried, both of my kids were still in high school, and my mother was alive. Oh, and I wasn’t 50! As David Bowie so eloquently put it: “. . .turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes!”
I am not the first person to experience the untethered, anchorless feeling of losing the last of one’s parents, or of the unfinished, phantom-limb sensation of the Empty Nest, or the sternum cracking, joyful chorus of a more perfect love, but I find that I am in a place that begs its expression – a kind of through-the-looking-glass place where nothing is familiar, yet everything is, a place where I should know where I am and I do, but I don’t – a world where nothing has changed and yet everything has.
I’m not a stranger to loss. My father died suddenly when I was 16. His death was more shocking to me than Donald Trump leading in the polls. And when he died everything died with him. It was like the Auden poem from Four Weddings and a Funeral:
“The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
My mother’s death was not sudden, but it was shocking in its own sneaky way. I was with her when she breathed her last and that was that. No fanfare, no soul rising up out of her body or brilliant white light or choir of angels. Nothing. She simply breathed her last and ceased to be. Suddenly the end was Here. Not near, but Here. In a moment, an instant, the riot of life that for 83 years was my mother ended – just like that.
I thought I was prepared for her to die. I thought I was ready. There’s a James Michener quote Reese Witherspoon’s character cites in that movie Wild: “We are never prepared for what we expect.” And so it was when my mother died.
I knew when I received the call that morning at work. I knew when I got to the emergency room. I knew when the doctor laid out the odds. I knew as I watched her disappear over those endless days and nights and I really knew when one morning, before she lost her voice, she asked me not to leave her. But, all along I still thought I was ready.
I had imagined my life without my mom many times. Typical teenage fantasies of escaping her tyranny and angst filled adult ruminations on wills and wishes. My mother drove me nuts and I drove her crazy. We loved each other and wanted to kill each other. We needed each other and resented each other. We were, for most of my life, everything to one another. And now she’s gone and I’m trying to find my way without the sun, the tides, without air. I am Sandra Bullock and I am Off Structure!
And as if that’s not enough acclimatizing, my kids are gone too! No, they’re not dead, just off in college. Now it’s just me and my new husband at home alone. Well, not entirely alone. We have our dog, our cat and now my mother’s undocumented devil dog Domino. Like I said, nothing makes any sense.
It’s a strange sensation when the people who define you – I’m a daughter, I’m a mother – go. I find myself suddenly finding myself again and I’m finding that I’d rather stay lost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad this open-ended time. I can go to the gym before work, write this blog, finish up publishing my novel. And I most certainly do not miss packing everyone’s lunch at five in the morning, but I haven’t had time to hear myself think since Jerry Garcia was alive and now all I can hear is myself thinking and it’s driving me crazy.
So now, instead of a mother or chidren, I have a therapist. My own personal Anne Sullivan. She’s turning me into a Buddhist and so far so good. I’ve been meditating which is comically ironic since meditating is all about being with yourself and that’s the very thing that’s making me lose my mind. And, on top of that, it’s really fucking hard. Apparently this is a journey, a long journey. A Frodo and the One Ring kind of journey, except at the end I won’t be able to extinguish my crazy in the fires of Mount Doom, I’ll just learn to live with it. Seems rather anticlimactic.
But on the upside, it seems to be working – a little. When you meditate you’re supposed to feel yourself grounding and being connected to the earth and every living thing in it. I can get there, sometimes, for maybe a nanosecond and then the devil dog barks and I’m off structure again. But for that instant, I remember what gravity feels like – what my mom’s perfume smells like, what my kids singing in the car sounds like – and suddenly, for a moment, it feels like everything is going to be okay, like I’m back on solid ground.