On Grieving: Part 3

There’s been a strange phenomenon happening inside of my head since my mom died that feels like I’ve been transported back several years. And I think about her and how young she was and it seems so impossible that her body wasted away already. She was only 55 years old, how did her body quit? My parents were always the young and fit, cool parents, everyone thought so, including me. They still played sports with us, they went out on dates on their motorcycle in their leather jackets, just a couple of cool kids out on the town. I liked that a lot about my parents, they were always so happy to go off together to do their thing. You know, adult things, like watching movies in the theater and eating in restaurants, and such.

All at once, in the midst of years of tremendous heaviness of heart, the day we laid Mom’s body in the ground I felt this great peace in my soul that she didn’t have to be that emaciated body anymore, she could just be Mom, the Mom I knew well. I could imagine her alive and beautiful and happy, at her happiest, but even happier than she’s ever been before, because that’s who she is now. The years of illness and struggle don’t need to be dwelt on anymore, they were momentary struggles. It’s an interesting and peaceful thought.

Watching Mom’s body waste away was arduous for me. Most of the time I would just see Mom, it was such a slow process that it didn’t feel abnormal, but then sometimes I’d be looking into her eyes and suddenly my focus would expand and I would see what she was really looking like and it would horrify me for a second, and then I’d remind myself that it was to be expected, it’s just what was happening. My gut reaction to seeing someone look so unlike themselves was “Oh my gosh, this isn’t good, you can’t keep going on like this, we have to do something!” and the whole concept of giving up on her health was so difficult for me to grasp. I have such a passion for health and my mind is constantly thinking through what needs to be done to improve and gain energy and function, it was so against my instincts to not do something to try to counter her dying. It was difficult to not succumb to the panic and helplessness, I know my dad suffered the worst of the helpless feelings. I fought hard many nights against the picture of her wasted body in my head, it felt like I was haunted by it.

Then on that brisk Saturday morning when we all stood around her grave, and watched all these strong and loving men lower her casket into the ground, I felt that peace wash over me. Her body was now going to return to dust, I didn’t have to hold onto the horror of it’s demise, it was done, taken care of, and where her body needed to be. She didn’t belong with us anymore, she was home, experiencing all the joy she was created for. If she doesn’t need that body anymore, then I don’t need it either. It was very unexpected for me to feel that way, I thought I should still feel connected to it, but instead I felt like we were just faking that that body was Mom, she was gone. Instantly. We were watching her breathe and suddenly… she was gone. The soul and spirit of a person is the greatest mystery I’ve ever encountered; how it can reside inside a person, make them alive, and when it’s gone, their bodies are just hard, empty. Just an earthen thing. It felt right to let her body go. For that, I am so grateful.

And now the past few years of watching her fight through cancer have slipped away, and I just think about what she was like when she was strong. I think that’s nice. I like thinking about her then. But it also has made me feel like I’m back where I was then, and it’s caused me to struggle with a lot of things I haven’t struggled with for a while. Or maybe I’m just struggling with those things because I was pretending like I wasn’t still thinking about them and now that my world has shifted it’s all bubbling back up to the surface. Sometimes I really feel like a wreck. A mess. But just a mess who can easily pick up enough to get the house cleaned and organize some music lessons and write a few songs. A mess under a nice layer of lacquer, a passable mess.

”Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face, Then I beg to be spared ‘cause I’m a coward.” -Chris Thile

Seeing firsthand a life wind up, finished and done, has brought an energized focus to what living a life really is. Like, what in the world am I doing being afraid of failure, or expectations, or not being cool enough, or never looking as fit as I am, or not sleeping at night? What am I doing being fearful at all? Why am I caring about my petty disappointments or even my mammoth disappointments, and especially other people’s imagined or actual expectations? It will all be over and done soon enough. Sooner than we all think. Live. Live. Live. I can see why some people become reckless after monumental loss, looking at death, knowing that’s where you’re going too, feeling the release of one of your greatest earthly treasures being gone, makes you really want to just throw caution to the wind. If we’re all dying anyway then what do reservations matter? Of course this is an extreme, and everything must be balanced at some point, but I think it’s good to hang onto that focus, to not become caught up in all the petty busyness and fear of failure that we are all submerging our days in. Like a chocolate dipped cone you can’t stop dipping. The ice cream itself was pretty great, one dip in the chocolate is quite tasty, but if you’re dipping it over and over again eventually the ice cream is going to melt and you’re going to think “Man, why didn’t I just eat the ice cream while I had it?”

And that’s life, guys.