She went into what would be her death sleep around 1 pm on Sunday, August 12, 2014, with her last words of “I guess they’re going to throw me out now,” suffering, I think, the final heart attack that led to her death.
I assured her that I was not throwing her out, that she was home, and I loved her. It took me several months and writing Fields of Gold: A Love Story before I realized that Mama was back at nursing school at East Tennessee State University, unable to follow all the instructions she was given because of a congenital hearing loss, about to be dismissed from the program because she could not hear the doctors when her back was turned to them (she compensated for her hearing impairment by masterfully reading lips, even with hearing aids, most of her life).
I keep waiting to get used to it, because she’s gone from this life and not coming back in this life. I keep waiting to be okay with it, because not being okay with it doesn’t change anything. I keep waiting for it not to hurt, not to ache, and not to bring on the random and often inconvenient sudden floods of tears.
And then I remember that I’m still waiting for the same thing with Daddy’s death and that’s been almost 18 years, so I guess it’s not coming anytime soon.
Grief and loss are the most complicated thing internally that I’ve ever had to face.
I was not prepared for this, even though at the time I thought I was.
Logically (because over everything else my logic tends to lead the way in my life) I completely knew and accepted this was the way things would end with Mama. But in every other way, I was totally unprepared for the momentous impact and cumulative effect that having both of my parents gone would have on me and my heart, my soul, and my life.
I realize everybody grieves and handles loss differently, so I know there’s no right and wrong way to live with it, but I know how dramatically it has changed me fundamentally and pervasively in who I am and what I am in every part of my life.
Mama dealt with the grief and losses of her life by talking continually about and remembering with intimacy the people she lost and grieved over.
Daddy dealt with his losses and grief over them by keeping his silence and and talking about everyone after them, except for the occasional arms length and dispassionate mention, until the last year or so of his life.
I deal – and I use that term loosely, because so much of the time I feel overwhelmed by them and life has become heavily-tinged with them constantly at the edges of who and what I am – with my grief and losses completely on the inside: in my memories, my late, late night and early, early morning thinking, in dreams, and, on occasion, in nightmares.
There are times when it seems like it’s been an eternity since Mama died (and even longer since Daddy died) and deep intense heartache and a continual, overarching, and profound sense of emptiness and aloneness are what those losses have left for me.
There are other times when it seems like it was just yesterday that Mama (and Daddy) died, and the gaping wounds of loss and grief are fresh, raw, and unbearable.
That is a paradox of time I haven’t figured out and I can’t explain logically. All I know for certain is how deeply and irreparably it hurts.
There is no port, no dry land to go back to. And the boat is in such bad shape that it’d never make it back even if there was.
So I drift, waiting for that storm somewhere in the future – maybe immediate, maybe near, hopefully not far – that will break what’s left of this boat up completely and give me that burial at sea that seems inevitable.
It won’t have to be a big storm. It will just have to be enough of a storm.
I have no issue with how this is going to end. My only issue is to endure faithfully no matter what lies between getting from here to there.
So while I’m waiting, I mark the fourth year Mama’s been gone. I miss you, Mama, and I love you. I can’t wait to see you and Daddy again and once more run to you both at breakneck speed with tears of joy, hugging you both and holding you both tightly for a long, long time. May that day come quickly for us all.