For the first time in my life, this fear that has haunted for me for so long, not just the fear of cancer, or abandonment, (Which as an only, adopted-late-in-life child, without a single relative in my nuclear family other than my Mother, Father, Grandmother, and Grandfather, [All gone now] has been my life’s constant companion), but the specter of truly being an orphan, when I have always felt like one, and that was held at bay by the illusion of belonging and companionship that my small family kept just out of reach, the fear that grew larger with each subsequent death, (And that is perhaps true for all of us when we lose both of our parents, BTW I've got the book, Death Benefits, it's been helpful, thanks), has finally come to pass and in a very important, real, and primary way I am now truly an orphan and feel more alone than I can possibly attempt to describe to you.
I have a son. I have a lover. I have friends who remember me. But my first family is gone. Wiped off the face of the earth. And there isn’t anyone left who can answer my questions or tell me what I might have been doing on a certain date, or explain why we went somewhere at some particular time, or where this piece of furniture came from, or why something might have held some particular meaning for my Mom or my Dad. If I feel sad I want to reach for the phone to call my Mother. If something sweet or funny happens I want to pick up the phone to tell her. And I can’t. And it hurts. It hurts so much. And I am alone in this. I have been given the gift of a healed relationship with one of my Mother’s best friends with whom I can share some of this grief. And I have been given the gift of some much older women who have stepped forward to offer me some comfort and advice and I do not take these gifts lightly or for granted but Christ Almighty have I been hurting.
My Mother was more like a husband to me than any man was and I feel ripped to pieces, so lost at sea without her. The freedom from this endless childhood that I thought would come with her passing is bringing gifts along with it, but this transition is mind blowingly painful and I don’t want to impose this suffering I am going through on anyone. So I act the way my Mother would. I get up and put one foot in front of the other and do things. I walk through my days getting painfully difficult things done. I take it, “one day at a time,” and somehow it becomes manageable and I make my way through this, but I don’t know how, I don’t remember how I got from A to B. I don’t remember how I spent a week. I struggle with time as always, and am often unaware of what day or date it is. I lose things over and over again and have to retrace my steps in order to find simple basic things like my wallet and my keys that I am constantly losing.
I have traveled through stages of feeling, none of it linear in a way that Kubler Ross would have me believe, although I look for the signs, road maps, anything to help lead the way down this painful twisting path. I want to breathe again, but breathing is dangerous, breathing connects with feeling, and I am afraid the feeling will spill over like the Stone Canyon reservoir that sits at the top of my Mother’s street, sweeping away everything in its path. I am afraid to allow myself to really feel because I feel so much and wonder if once I open the floodgates, if it will ever subside, if I will survive the flood, so I let it out in small polite bursts like a child playing with helium inside a party balloon.
I tell everyone about it, repeating the story again and again to strangers, as if doing this will help some part of accept that this is real, telling anyone who will listen, “My Mother has died.” Everyone understands what this feels like. Everyone has lost someone they loved. Someone will understand. And they do. And it helps. It helps to talk to strangers and daily acquaintances. It helps to accept their sympathy. But then sometimes it makes me angry too. I get angry when well meaning people say, “How old was she?” and then dismiss my grief due to her advanced age.
I know they/you/everyone means well and I am grateful for every exchange I am lucky enough to have with anyone who cares enough to try to say something comforting. I am seriously appreciative and grateful. I know that my grief is so small by comparison with the suffering of others and I am blessed to be able to reach out and find ways to get any kind of comfort through an exchange of words and feelings, any kind of contact with another human being. But as irrational as it is, and as often as I have said these very same words myself in an attempt to comfort someone else, I get angry when people tell me how lucky I was to have had her for so long. Angry when people tell me to be grateful that she is no longer suffering. Angry when they tell me she is in a “better place”. Angry when they tell me that she would want me to move on and be happy. Angry when I am told to remember the good and discard the bad. Angry when I am reminded to celebrate a life so well lived. Angry. And sad. And then angry and sad again, and again, and again. Which finally brings me to this; Yes, time does heal all. In some cases it may take a lot of time to dull the sharp ragged edges of the deepest of wounds, but time does indeed heal. However it is nature that I have found to be the most healing; the tiniest most often overlooked and most commonplace events in nature have brought me the greatest comfort and joy.
I realized this tonight as I was following the sound of a dog barking, followed it out into the dusky shadowed green garden of this hotel where I am staying. (I have been doing a lot of this lately, running away to very local hotels to escape the tremendously daunting tasks I am faced with at home.) I followed the sound of a dog I wanted to meet and interact with, because animals make me happy. For me it’s a simple act of instinct to drop everything I am doing in an instant and follow the sound of a dog, cat, bird, or anything that crawls or buzzes by. So I followed the barking dog and never found it, but I did find a small garden filled with fruit trees. Trees so ripe with fruit that their branches are almost touching the ground. Trees so ripe with fruit that the weakest fruits are being pushed off the braches by the stronger ones, creating a line of small unripe fruit along the edge of this pathway that is filled with ants who are busily working to disassemble these plums, apricots, and whatever other sweet round and juicy things are growing out there, to take back to feed their community.
The sound of a dog, the fruit on a tree, a long line of ants; Nature reminded me that life moves on, life continues despite loss, grief and tragedy, and it is still beautiful and rich, still full of hope and possibility, and so the thought that finally brought me here tonight was that sometimes the smallest and simplest of things are the most beautiful, the most rewarding, the most healing. They won’t bring my Mother back, but they remind me that I am grateful and lucky to be alive, to be here living in this very moment. They remind me to continue to be alive and present to the right now. So that when we are hurting all we ever really have to do is go outside and watch the path of a snail as it makes it’s way along the ground or look up and watch the clouds pass by.
On my street there are roses blooming. By my porch there is a thick wall of jasmine, and around the corner there is a bank of sweet peas. At my Mother’s house, the house where I grew up that holds so many memories, but that I am being forced to sell in order to pay 45% estate taxes to the government, there is a small birds nest tucked up beneath the roof of her front porch, and there is a mama bird who sits so patiently and sweetly, watching me so closely each time I pass by. Then just the other day I saw tiny yellow beaks and fuzzy bald heads popping up, waiting for their parents to come back with food. I saw the hummingbirds that always remind me of my Father, the lizards that have lived in our garden for as long as I can remember, a big orange butterfly, and the deep fuchsia colored bougainvillea that my parents loved so much is in bloom again. So for me nature is the answer, nature and remaining open to the many meaningful possibilities in each present moment. And if you are lucky enough to live anywhere near the ocean, there is always the tremendously healing power of the sea.
PS: Just now there was a knock at my door. The manager, Makena, (Named after one of my favorite dive spots in Maui), with whom I had just been speaking about the fruit trees, sent a complimentary slice of their amazing chocolate cake, a pot of hot tea, and a condolence card. There is so much kindness, loveliness, and light in the midst of the darkness, the sadness and the pain, and I am constantly being reminded of this. I wanted you to know this.
PPS: Today is Scott’s birthday. He could use some love too. XOX