Anyone who’s lived on after the death of someone loved and dear can attest to the truth that holidays acquire a different flavor after the loss. Festivities develop an undeniable bitterness and a hardened, jagged edge: Christmas mornings may be spent in tearful huddles rather than expressions of peace and joy, the year-round ache of missing heightened to an acute and salient torment.
My mother passed away in June 2007. Even half a decade later, her absence is a ragged hole with raw, flayed, tender edges, the type of absence that blurs my vision with hot, uninvited tears when I can’t possibly see them coming. Corporeally, the grief rests in my chest, comprising at once an oppressive pressure and a frayed tear directly down the breastbone.
After her death, I remember, at the fresh-faced age of 18, I looked forward with an admirably firm resolve. I wouldn’t be “like all the others;” I would face my grief, I would handle the situation in a healthy manner, I would actively stamp out avoidance and blocking.
Ah, naive optimism. Throughout the course of these 5 years, I’ve blocked and avoided unspeakably more than I’ve accepted. This, despite the contractual agreement I made with myself all those years ago, despite screaming-with-tears sessions in the therapist’s office, and despite immeasurable amounts of misplaced anger, fear, and sadness, haphazardly aimed, generally, at those who loved me most. I still can’t listen to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez without setting aside a substantial block of time and emotionally preparing myself for the recklessly vivid sound memories that will inevitably ensue, with or without my consent, memories apathetic to my years-long crusade to keep them out-of-range, in a remote place where they couldn’t hurt me. No, my grief instead takes the vague, nebulous shape of a just-barely acknowledged cloud, an abstract, distant thudding, recognized viscerally rather than mentally, relentlessly threatening to rush forth and decimate everything in its path regardless of my systematic insistences that I’m not yet ready, threatening to ruin me and ruin my life with its sheer reality.
Fortunately, and in spite of me, my mom comes alive in fleeting, invaluable moments: the first time I glimpsed my reflection in a window and understood what people see when they tell me how much I look like my mom, or the passing remarks from long-time family friends that my mother would be proud of who I am now. These are sentiments I grasp at hungrily, clutching them and caressing them in my mind, willing them to be enough. And I believe them. I believe my mom would be proud of me, but the simple fact is that I would never, ever have arrived here without her. Merry Christmas Mama, and love you always.