On Grief

I was on the way out the door when my dad called to tell me that my mom had died. It was a warm spring day, and dust motes danced in the sunbeam in front of me as I listened. I didn’t know what to say. I was certain I was the worst daughter ever, certain my silence condemned me. My arms ached to hug my father, but a mountain range separated us. Yet another item on my list of sins, my list of ways I had failed the people I loved. I should have been there with him. After he’d hung up, I leaned heavily against my car. The garage smelled of dust and oil and I breathed it deep. Even now, ten years later, when my grief comes back, so does the smell.

Instead of collapsing onto the concrete like I wanted to, I got into my car and began the familiar drive to the police department. I’d been hired as a reserve police officer and had the last of my evaluations to perform before the job became official, my psych evaluation. As I drove, my mind landed on the last visit I’d made, a couple of weeks prior.

Mom had been bad, the tumors pushing on her brain caused dementia-like symptoms. I’d taken over her care for the day, giving my dad some much needed time away from the house. Shortly after changing her diaper and helping her into the kitchen to eat, she’d had her last lucid moment. We’d sat on the kitchen floor, holding each other, reminiscing, dreaming. I hadn’t realized she was saying goodbye.

The realization didn’t hit me until I was driving down the road, until she was already gone. I crept into the station, using a back door to avoid running into anyone. I’d grown up at the PD, my father had been a cop there for twenty-five years before he retired. Everyone knew my mom was sick. If someone stopped me to ask how she was doing, I knew I wouldn’t make it to the evaluation.

Somehow I made it through the psych eval. I was sworn in a month later. They gave me the same badge number as my father. My mother wasn’t in any of my pictures. She didn’t get to see the fruition of what I’d worked so hard for over the two years prior. She has missed most of my big adult moments. When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. When I completed my masters. My first career job. The birth of my daughter.

My mother had always encouraged my writing. When I decided to go back to writing, to boldly pursue my passion, my fingers itched to pick up the phone to tell her. When I finished writing my first novel, the one person I wanted to share it with more than anyone else no longer existed in this world. When I got the acceptance phone call from my first choice in programs for my Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction, I actually began dialing her number before memory kicked in and I realized there was no one to pick up the other end of the line.

Here in the States, our culture portrays grief as a short term problem, something to be dealt with and then dismissed. It doesn’t work that way. I will forever have the wound her death left, the anger that she left too soon, the injustice that I can’t share my life with her anymore. After she had died, I dreamed of her. Waking from those dreams was like losing her all over again. All these years later, I still dream of her, and I feel the emptiness yawn inside of me when I wake up to the reality that she’s gone. When my friends complain about their mothers, I want to strike out at them, to weep and rage and make them see how foolish they are. At least they have their mothers. I’ve been robbed of mine.

Fucking breast cancer. Fucking grief. Fuck this hole in my heart.

This morning I found a note she wrote me on Valentines Day the year before she died. It was another goodbye. One that told me everything was going to be okay. She said my life would be filled with joy. I guess everything is okay, but some days are less okay than others. There is joy, but God, how I wish I could share it with her.