Monday, March 4, 2019

Setting Aside the Cloak

Mom and me at my NJ launch party for
Casting the First Stone.
Some days, I miss my mom. Other days, her absence is a gaping hole, an irreparable tear in the fabric of my world, that would resist any attempt at repair, were I even motivated enough to find a needle and thread and begin stitching.

If you've lost a loved one, you know what I mean. While no two losses are the same, no two experiences of loss identical, the pain is universal. Inescapable.

Grief is sneaky. It arrives without warning and, at first, we are numb, anesthestized by loss. Over time, the ground beneath us shifts as grief slips underground. Sometimes, the path over it is smooth, paved by routine and a slow adjustment to a new normal. Other times, it's rocky, making us aware of each step we take, perhaps intensifying the loneliness of the journey, the awareness that grief is still there, with us in each step.

Then there are the times when grief emerges, triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, an anniversary or an event. We can fight the heaviness that surrounds us like a cloak but, often, the best response is to simply acknowledge it. To name it and, if we can, to figure out why in the midst of a sunny, spring day, the cloak of grief has decided to wrap itself around us.

I've been running away from the cloak for a couple of days now, staving it off with sleep and activities I enjoy, thinking I just needed a break after too many busy weeks. Then yesterday, in church, a bit of Scripture hit too close to home and suddenly, I understood what I was running from.

We lost my mom close to two years ago, bit by bit as cancer took first her stamina, then her dignity and finally, her life. We had time to prepare, to say all the important things.

To say goodbye.

I've had time to find a new normal and, most days, it works. I can keep the cloak at bay for minutes, days, even weeks at a time. Then something happens -- bad news, good news, something funny -- and I want to tell my mom. I know she can still hear me.

But I can't hear her.

Over the past few weeks, I've been moving closer to the release of a new book, one that has been over a decade in the making. I'm excited and caught up in all of busyness of getting things ready. There's something funny, good or bad to share every day.

And she's not here.

For the first time, I'm releasing a book without my mom. She didn't read it before I sent it to the publisher. She won't see the final product, read the endorsements, celebrate with me. I can't hug her and hear her tell me that she's proud of me.

And it hurts.

I'm a big girl, and I can do this on my own, due in large part to my mom's influence. But yesterday, I had to mourn the fact that doing it without her is the only choice I have.

It was a sad, teary day. I felt sorry for myself a lot and, for a while, I let the grief win. I wrapped myself up in the cloak and let its heaviness take over. I was crabby and snippy and nothing suited me.

But after a while, that was that. My mom wouldn't want me to wrap myself in the cloak for days on end, and she'd be horrified if she thought she played any role in tinging any part of this adventure with the slightest bit of sadness.

And so I put away the cloak, folding it up and storing it out of sight, in the dark recesses, driving the grief back underground. The heaviness lifted almost as suddenly as it had arrived, settling itself into a familiar weight on my heart, one I carry daily without even thinking about it.

Most of the time.

I very nearly didn't post this. It's darker than my usual posts, and though it was cathartic for me to write, it will be hard for some to read.

In the end, I posted it because I know I'm not alone. Friends and family walked through my mind as I typed this -- friends who'd lost parents. Children. Spouses. And I wanted them -- and everyone who is grieving -- to know that a time will come when it's possible to fold up the cloak and put it away at will. It's difficult, because the cloak is heavy and it will always be there, just beyond our fingertips, but we don't need to wear it every day. Instead, we need to put on the best of those we've loved, and carry those attributes with us throughout the day, every day, sharing them with the world they've left behind.

Because that is how they live on. And that's the only way to shrug off the cloak.

One of my favorite photos of my parents.

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