The words come less easily now. The loss saturates me to my bones. It’s harder to eye it objectively. I have the same kinds of clumps of thoughts throughout the day, but at the end of it- I can’t string them together into anything other than this flat sadness. I imagine it is a sign of pressing forward- the pulse of my chaotic early mourning – flat-lining.
I am frustrated at my inability to comprehend your disappearance. I stand at your grave yesterday, fumbling with my words as I usually do while our daughter sips hot chocolate. “Incomprehensible,” I say. We leave pink Gerber Daisies chosen by your daughter and white hydrangeas from me. We pick a few weeds and Audrey sprinkles them back down on the grass, “I’m making it really pwetty.”
I turned 36 last week. I loathe the number because it includes the 6. The day of your death. Otherwise, my birthday passes painlessly. Much more painlessly than yours does. I think a lot about past birthdays with you. But mostly, my expectations are low and because of that- there is more gratitude than anything else. Remember my high expectations? How I drove you crazy- of course you do. I am different now, I find. I wish you could know me. Any day where someone I love doesn’t die a tragic death is an OK day with me. Every day is a gift to spend with my daughter. I wish I had the physical energy to match that knowledge. But at least in my thoughts: “Wow, this is amazing- we are here, alive, together- we can do whatever we want- take a walk, go out to eat, go to a ballet, sit and eat a snack while watching The Sound of Music.” I wish I’d had this sense when you were here. I wish I’d known. I’m a year older. I am leaving you behind at 33. It is so strange to age away from you. But I am. And maybe closer to you at the same time.
Mother’s Day is next. I am sad I had only one of those with you- you carrying breakfast to me in bed- me, changing from my pajama shirt into a white shirt and then getting back in bed for the “First Mother’s Day” photo I wanted you to take for her album. There is, of course, all of the heartbreak of watching your child grow up without you. I feel, a whole hemisphere is missing from her life. Especially because we were such opposites in so many ways- I feel so inadequate to fill in the gaps- and of course, I can not. I hear you often in my mind, telling me to stop singing Broadway style to her (you loathed Broadway musicals), or rolling your eyes when I’m teaching her large vocabulary words. It makes me smile. But not only is it torture to see her without you, but I think, it’s nice to have your mothering witnessed by someone- and who better than the father of your child. You never really saw me like this- a mother of a 3-1/2 year old. You never saw us together the way we are- the way we giggle over something funny or dance together. (I twirl her just the way you twirled me) I know Mother’s Day is just another Hallmark holiday and our daughter tells me she loves me about 50 times a day now- but I will miss your part. I will miss your praise and acknowledgement that I’m doing this OK.
Today I sit in the car when I go to pick Audrey up from preschool, watching her out on the playground. I speak to you. “Hey Dan…so that’s her, that’s our daughter. She’s so pretty isn’t she? See how long her hair got? Yup- that’s her. Don’t worry- I teach her that having a pretty heart is more important though- and she does- have a really pretty heart. She’s sensitive and cares about others. She says she wants to travel around the world and bring food and stuff in a helicopter to give out to people who don’t have any. She’s so smart Dan, and so creative- always pretending and imagining…”
She’s silly and she reminds me a lot of you every day with her expressions. I’m not sure, but she may have my sense of rhythm instead of yours- sorry. But she loves ballet dancing and singing and art. She’s independent and not a follower. She’s affectionate, always hugging me and the other kids at school. She tells me helpful things like when I’m saying to my GPS, “Why is this thing telling me to go that way?” and she tells me, “Well, you could just go the way you know then mommy.” She loves dressing up and pretending to be a princess or a fairy, and lately- a bride. She tells me she’s going to marry me- just the way I remember you said you would tell your mom when you were a little boy. She loves mango sorbet- just like you. She’s really eager to learn Korean and travel- lately she talks about going to India all the time. I wish you could see her, meet her.
In the beginning I found it nothing but irritating when well-meaning souls kept telling me how lucky I was to have her- lucky? Have you ever told your not yet two year old a word she had no framework for- “Appa died, honey…he’s not coming back from his trip this time.” Have you listened to her scream out in the middle of the night a year later, “I wanna play with appa now!!” tears streaming down her face after a dream about him. Not to mention never, after the tremendous shock of your loss, getting to just stay in bed for a few days crying- but up every morning all day caring for a small child.
Of course, I have always loved her deeply but only now- do I have that sense of gratitude or having her in the midst of your loss. I feel like before you left, you gave me the most wonderful gift I will probably ever receive. The daughter I’d always wanted. Thank you for that.
The elderly Chinese widow across the hall who we see sometimes or have over for tea left me a single yellow rose at my door the other day. She left a post-it saying “To dear Julia- Happy Mother’s Day,” and when I caught her taking out her trash earlier and thanked her, she said “To me, you are a very special mother and I have you here, in my heart,” pointing to her heart.
I wish you could see me. I am different. I am sad. But I am thankful. I am trying.
I am thankful to be mothering through my grief because there is nothing more life-affirming that you can do than raise a child in this world. There is nothing that requires more out of you- nothing so steeped in this world- literally cleaning up waste, feeding bodily fluids. Unless you just block it out- you must understand what it is all for- why you are doing it. If you are mothering, at least on some level, you must believe in something other-worldy, something eternal- that compels you- to pour so much of yourself into another human life regardless of reciprocation here in the land of the dying. You must believe in more than mere evolution and survival of your DNA to do it- that will not be enough to get past the science and practice it as an art. The gift of motherhood is the renewal of the sanctity of the overused word, love. It is the understanding of something apart from this world – yet holding it all together- something sacred, something stronger than death.