One Day at a Time

Mourning the days as the calendar turns
Greif

 

It’s been two months now.

I’m sure, at some point, I will stop counting the days and weeks and months since my mother’s sudden and unexpected death, but I’m not there yet. I still think, every Friday, about the last time we saw each other. Every Saturday, about the last time we spoke on the phone. Every Sunday, the last time we texted. Every Monday, the last time we “liked” each other’s Facebook posts. Every Tuesday, the day my life changed forever.

I’ve processed it, I think, as much as I can, but I lost my brother 33 years ago, and I still miss him. I lost my sister 11 years ago and my close friend 10 years ago, and I still miss them. I had a second trimester miscarriage 15 years ago, and although there is no one, really, to miss and of course I adore my 14- and 9-year-old daughters, I still get waves of sorrow about that, too.

It becomes less frequent; I know that from experience. In these early days after those other losses, everything reminded me of them, everything felt heavy and sad. Certain everyday things were particularly triggering. For at least a year after my brother died, fortune cookies depressed me because we’d eaten a meal at a Chinese restaurant the day he got out of rehab, about a month before he died. With my sister, it was chicken piccata, the last meal I ever cooked for her, in her drab Florida apartment while she hovered along the peeling Formica countertop and nagged me, getting drunker and drunker on cheap white wine she drank out of a plastic Tom Thumb cup because her hands shook too badly to be trusted with an actual wine glass. Songs, too, were hard. For my brother, Tom Waits and James Taylor songs got me. For my sister, it was Earth, Wind & Fire and Steely Dan.

Now I can eat those things, hear those songs, and barely think of them, but back then, they haunted me.

It takes a lot now to bring those memories back full-force. The pain associated with them has faded, and now I feel a sense of fondness when I eat my brother’s favorite candy (Reese’s Pieces) or smell my sister’s perfume (Chanel No. 5).

I’m not there yet with my mom. I had 40 years to get to know everything she liked and disliked: Vietnamese food, Diet Coke, mystery novels, a cappella music, angel food cake, onions on hamburgers, thrift stores, Tetris, modern art, Talking Heads, sauerkraut. All of those things bring on a stab of grief.

At my doctor’s office last week, they called a woman back and verified her birthday, which was the same as my mom’s but two years earlier, and I was irrationally angry at this woman: How come she was walking around just fine, and my mom, who was younger, was dead?!

There will come a time, I hope, when I am no longer so sad and angry — and honestly also bewildered, as much as anything, because how can she just be gone like that? How can she be gone when she had just clicked “like” on my Facebook post hours before?

But that time is not here yet for me. The fireworks on July 4 will make me sad. My kids going back to school without her here to give them little “first day presents” will make me sad. Our shared September birthdays will make me sad. Halloween will make me sad. Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s are all completely unfathomable to experience without her. Ditto Carnival season and Valentine’s Day and Easter.

I’ll do it. I know I will. Sad or not, I’ll get through the year, and I’ll find joy and make new traditions.

The pain won’t ever go away completely, but eventually Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays and Mondays and Tuesdays will just be days again.

Until then, I’ll just be over here, mourning and counting the months.