At 62, I routinely accept the senior discount. I have gray hair, a cataract that needs attention, and a will. I am not young.
I’ve been a journalist and a schoolteacher. And, as a daughter, a stepdaughter, sister and half-sister, wife, stepmother, step-grandmother, aunt, niece, cousin and every kind of in-law, I’ve been in relationship with others.
I am not lacking in life experience.
But until a year ago, I didn’t know grief. It was as alien to me as the pains of childbirth. I had lost family members, of course, and three dogs I dearly loved, but until my mother died, I had never grieved.
I knew it was coming. She had been ill a long time, but the diagnosis of cancer came only 6 weeks before the end. So, in a way, her loss was sudden. I thought I was prepared.
Being prepared is something I inherited from my mother. A decade early, she and I planned and paid for her funeral. The summer before she died, we sat at her kitchen table for hours sorting photos and papers. More importantly, we tacitly agreed years before to say what needed to be said.
Together, we prepared me for her death. But not for what came after.
Acknowledging my ignorance and always the good student, I considered googling the stages of grief or joining a support group at church. I asked a few friends to talk about losing their parents.
And then, my mother was dying. I was sitting by her bedside, I was watching her casket being lowered into the ground, I was sorting through her things.
Grief arrived, and I knew nothing could have prepared me. Not when the loss was of someone so…essential. As my friend Toni Terry said at the time, “It’s a huge event in your life when your mother dies.”
It was the most sensible thing anyone said to me.
You have a nightmare, and your mother is there for you. Your boyfriend breaks up with you, and your mother is there. She’s there to accept collect calls and hem your jeans and make your favorite meal. No matter how sick you are, how pissy or selfish you are, she’s there.
When you need somewhere to go or someone to talk to, your mother, the first person you loved, is there…as surely as breath, as surely as sunrise…from the moment of creation.
And then she isn’t.
Not always something you want…the inevitability of your mother. But once she’s gone, it’s something you can’t retrieve. There are no substitutes. Your place on the planet is a little more precarious. You are next in line.
That’s what this year has taught me about grief.