To suffer a loved one's long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.
A boundless black terror is how I imagined life without my mom. The history of grief, or what we know of it, is written by its greatest sufferers and ransacked with horror stories, lugubrious poetry, and downward-spiraling memoirs plunged in sadness. For some people, the death of a loved one is truly life-stopping, and I worried it would stop mine.
Then, in the weeks after she died, something strange happened. I did not plunge. Life did not stop. Instead, I felt something so unspeakably strange, so blasphemous, that I wondered if I could talk or write about it, at all. I felt okay.
For some, grief is a dull and unrelenting ache that fades—or doesn't. But for many of us, grief is something else. Grief is resilience.
My mother died two years ago, and today I’ll be at a tennis tournament. I tell myself that this is what she would have wanted. But that’s most likely not the case. She wouldn’t have wanted me to travel to UAE to work in the first place. I know that because she told me as much. But she was on her death bed, and my moving date was months away. I just told her, “we’ll talk about it later.” I knew that later would never come.
What began as a trip home ending in my mother’s death. She had been sick for years, and we knew that she was falling, we didn’t know how fast she had fallen. And how difficult it was for her to keep fighting.
Like the author, my grief was also quite normal. It wasn’t a wave of despair. I was not hit and knocked over unable to function. It was something more sneaky, persistent that kept at me. That continues to gnaw at me still. It comes in the weirdest times, this grief, like experiencing something and thinking what would my mom think about this? Most of the examples are from a life lived where she would not know what exactly to say. She would just sit and smile.
But this level of grief continues. And those longings continue. And that is what I guess she would want. To remain part of my life in even the most quotidian of times. She had long ago stopped trying to oversee what I thought and did and how I behaved. She was used to behaving as a mother of an adult child. She felt I was strong enough to fly, and she had other burdens. Maybe it was my other siblings who needed more guidance and she maybe it was because she was responsible or some of her family, too. I don’t know if she completely accepted it, but she played the role.
And so grieving her death has become a very strange process. A hole in my life appeared where I didn’t know I had an appendage before. I had moved out of my home state more than two decades before. We continued to speak weekly, sometimes every other week. Like anyone else, I would not know the bond that existed until she was gone. Would I have changed a thing? Probably not.
I miss you, mom. I always will. It just comes out in weird ways.