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  • Writer's picture Jana

It's Always Right Under the Surface.

Since my mom passed, three months ago today, I have been keenly aware of the unsettling feeling and nature of grief that descends upon me constantly. Whenever it comes over me, whether in a large wave, engulfing me, or ripple washing over me, I am always struck by its incomparable quality. There is absolutely no other feeling or emotion that comes close to how grief makes you feel. I want just to be sad, but grief is so much larger and more confusing than sadness. When it comes over me, I struggle to find words to describe it, even just for myself, and yet I never can. It runs so deep to a place I cannot name or really access and is, therefore, scary for me. As a person, who prides herself in not being. overly emotional, I find most often that I want to make it disappear, as quickly as I can.

One of the many things that I dislike about grief is how it finds me at the most unexpected moments. There are always reminders, everywhere I turn. Reminders of my mom's life and reminders of her death. So many reminders every day. Too many reminders. Or maybe not enough?

Just a few days ago I walked out to the mailbox to fetch the mail. I recall it being a pretty day and nothing particularly eventful was going on, which for me constitutes a good day, these days. I brought in the mail, put it on the kitchen counter, as I always do and started to sort through it. Then I froze. There I found yet another piece of mail from Forest Lawn, where my mom is buried. Just seeing the return address on the envelope caused a visceral reaction. I felt that all-too-familiar, yet inexplicable feeling of grief come over me. I realize how vulnerable I am, at any moment, to its grip.

When I opened the envelope I found a photograph with a mock-up of her gravestone, which I was being asked to "proof," approve, sign and return. The tone of the letter was matter-of-fact. My reaction was not. I was so frightened of how I might feel if I let myself feel anything at all. So I tried to put the genie back in the bottle. I quickly folded the documents up, placed them in the envelope, and put them on my desk in a folder labeled "Mom's Outstanding Issues". That sounds horrible. I remember trying to think of a. name for that dreaded file I created, right after her death and could not come up with anything better. I still can't. Anyway, when I stashed that envelope in the folder with the terrible name it was as though if I just put it in there fast enough, I might be able to outrun the feelings. Sometimes that actually works.

Today, I received a postcard from the Forest Lawn florist reminding me that I could order flowers for my mom's grave for all the upcoming holidays. Once again, I felt sick when I read it, so I ran to my desk, found the trusted folder, and shoved it inside.

But it's not just mail from Forest Lawn that evokes such strong feelings. When I open my credit card statement now and see the due date, even that reminds me of her. Her credit card was due on the same day as mine and I took care of paying it for her, so now even that stirs in me, that murky feeling of grief. Other reminders I seem to choose to have around. For example, every morning I use her makeup when I get ready. I could never have imagined that I would have saved her makeup and used it, but I do. I find it comforting to hold it in my hand, knowing that she touched it and too used it to make herself look beautiful. I even buy Garin the same kind of yogurt that she loved, Activia (which he had never even tried before she died), because it reminds me of her when I see him getting it out of the frig every morning. Catherine wears her headbands nearly every day, so there are those to remind of her too.

When I think of my mom, which is more times in a day than I can count, sometimes I want to escape the feelings that come with those thoughts and memories. Yet ironically, if too many hours pass and for whatever reason I haven't thought of her or felt those dreaded feelings, then I wonder if something is wrong and I am forgetting about her. I don't ever want to forget about her.

Regret is another upsetting aspect of death that spends quite a bit of time occupying my thoughts. I find myself thinking of so many things that I wish I could ask her if I had one last chance. I never realized how many questions I had for her until it was too late to ask them. I realize too, how much of my own life she took with her. She had the best memory of anyone I have ever known. She would bring up things, some funny and some not at all, that I would never have recalled in a million years. Some of the stories and memories would make me laugh and others would make me cringe. But no matter, I was always in awe of her memory. The day she died, she took all of those stories, hers and mine, with her. They are not written anywhere and only exist in her sharp and amazing mind. They now remain forever irretrievable.

So often, I want to pick up the phone and call her. Not only do I want to hear her voice one last time, but I also want to ask her about something (often simple or mundane) that I cannot recall. On some days, the inescapable reality that I cannot do that, is more than I can bear. Death brings with it so many losses that it can feel as though it is bottomless.

Unlike other situations of loss in life that are reparable, death is not. When you've had a falling out with a friend, there is still always that hope that you'll speak again and right what went wrong. When you break up with a partner you hope that you might reunite someday or if not, at least find a respectable replacement, once your heart has mended. Even when you lose a pet, which is one of the most painful losses I have ever experienced, there is still the hope that maybe once you've healed, you might be able to find and love another pet someday. When your mother dies, none of that is true. You will never have another mother and there will never be another person who knows and loves you like her. A mother is irreplaceable.

As grief goes, I am in the infancy stage. As I was looking at my credit card statement today and that ridiculous due date, I wondered for how long (months or years) would I look at that and have it remind me of my mother? How long will all these little, seemingly trivial things, trigger such a visceral reaction? I don't know. Then again, maybe I'll feel worse when I open that envelope one day and I don't think of her as I glance at that ridiculous due date. When faced with both options, forgetting seems far worse.

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