What you don’t know about grief is that it’s a living thing. Or maybe you do know this. Maybe you’re shaking your head at my naiveté. Grief has an appetite. It’s insatiable. If I’m not careful, it might replace the person I used to be.
If I wake up one day and there is nothing left of me but the sorrow that sits like a heavy stone in my chest, if the grief consumes — because I let it consume — and I become nothing more than the anguish that lives in my daughter’s absence, would it surprise you? It shouldn’t. Death wears the face of my child.
If I say I’m okay, I’m lying. I’m never okay. This grief is a lot like the cancer that stole Ana’s childhood and then took her completely. How can I be afraid of dying? If I could know the exact day and circumstance of my death, what a gift that would be. In the deepest corner of my grieving heart, I covet a secret that fills me with shame. Sometimes, I want to die.
What I wish I could tell you is that I pictured myself walking out into the snow on a day when it was -7 degrees Fahrenheit and wondered what it would be like to let the cold night take me and my grief away.
I don’t think it’s possible to restore the lost part of my being. It’s too big, the grief too deep. It’s like a channel in the earth, a rift.
Losing her has literally changed the landscape of my life. A gorge (a score, a crack, a fracture) runs down the center of my spirit. It’s a permanent scar. Part of me will always remain at the very bottom of this wound, dwelling in a darkness that’s impossible to escape. That’s my biggest fear.
Ana was my child and I remember every version of her. The stages of her life are imprinted in my mind far more clearly than any piece of my own identity. Since the day of her birth, there have been only two versions of myself — before motherhood and after.
I don’t know much right now. I’m wandering this winter trail trying to figure out if it’s possible to have a life again.
But there is plenty to restore. I am still a mother, after all. My younger daughter needs me and, at fifteen, her world has been upended as much as mine. Maybe more, because I am a changed mother, a desolate mother, a reaching, needy, weepy mother and she deserves to know that things can be okay again, even after the world splits in half.
I don’t know if I can reassure her because I don’t believe it myself and, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t want things to be okay without Ana. I want everyone to be as fundamentally changed as me.
Well, that’s not true.
Ana wouldn’t have wanted to leave a legacy of pain. She wouldn’t have wanted my life to pause at the moment of her death, frozen like some trapped scene inside a snow globe.
I’ve come to realize that no matter how bereft I feel, people are entitled to their joy. I long for your happiness but I don’t blame you for it. How can I? I was in that place once — a happy mother of two, planning the years, planning my life, oblivious to the shadows that fell across the paths of other people, always other people, but not me.
So what remains to be restored? That’s not the language that fits in the scenario of my new identity. Life without my child can’t be restored. It’s impossible to erase sixteen years of knowing every part of a person, of loving them with a completeness that was frightening, startling, a true gift from the universe.
Where did that love go?
It’s still here, extending outward from my spirit, reaching for the empty spaces where she should be.
I believe that my love for her is the start of my new life because it is tireless, always searching, lost within the emptiness that Ana’s death left behind. My love is as incorporeal as Ana has become, so I believe it can reach into the place where her soul survives and find her. I believe (hope) she can still feel that love even though I can’t feel her.
If I focus, if I’m resilient, if I persist, then I will feel her again and some light will reach the part of my being that’s trapped in darkness.