I was a consumer of niceties. People around me gave me sympathy, empathy, love. I took it all in. I bathed in it. I looked for more. All of it was welcomed and so appreciated. None of it was enough. I missed my mom.
And as I took in the love, I slowly - at a glacial pace - became alive again. I realized that maybe I could give a bit back to the world. The grief came - and still comes - in waves. At first - during those blurry first days and weeks - a numb rumbling of texts, calls, cards, casseroles…the "to-do's" that wrap up a life. It seemed busy and surreal and succinct. It was some concrete THING that I could physically do to assuage the pain, as if there are perfect steps to find one's way out. Then the tsunami hit. After the calls, and cards, and casseroles faded, I was left. Without a mom. My twice-weekly calls to her while I commuted were replaced with wiped tears at stoplights. Passing a Mother's Day display in a store resulted in a complete breakdown. I made a mental list of all she'd miss.
The hole, vacuous and frightening and unknown, sucked me in. I slowly fought through the darkness with the love and support of so many, but the pain demanded to be felt. Felt by me. The grief, like a river overflowing its banks in order to find a natural path continued to carve its way through. I passed days simply going through each motion. One at a time. Until one day I looked up at the tree outside and noticed that the gnarled bare gray branches were covered in delicate pinkish blossoms. I cried. I felt like I was leaving her in winter. But time did what it does, the blossoms snowed down and left behind leaves, first yellow, then green, then golden. And they too faded back to gnarled bare branches.
And slowly…slowly…I began to see myself again. Not all at once, and certainly not all of the time. But, I was able to realize what it was about her that I missed. It was her laugh. It was the sparkle in her voice when she was the center of attention. It was knowing that I had a mother who had loved me in the way that only a mother can. It was who I was in her eyes. Capable. Brave. All of the beliefs I had denied myself in grieving her.
I still hear her voice from one of our last conversations. "You're stronger than I am."
"You're the best thing I ever did."
I am haunted by that conversation one cold January Wednesday.
So, as I approached the end of 2013 and the end of that first year without her, I vowed to continue to be a consumer of love…but also a manufacturer of it. To believe that I deserve it, and to give it back. To throw it out into my world. I would work to see myself the way she saw me. Not invincible. Not perfect. Not without frailty. But capable. Brave.
2013 took me down to the studs. It broke me. It built me. There is beauty in the grief. It reveals itself slowly, quietly, subtly.
I can speak ill of her again - talk about the annoyances that only a mother can provide a daughter, but now I laugh. I'm able to see the love and the humanity through the sideways comments that cut; through the suggestions that doubted; through the telling me to put on more make up, or call more often, or don't text that boy. The grief is still working its way through me…still finding nooks and crannies that it's not yet explored and changed. I have a feeling that it will always be a part of me now, though its form and function will continue to evolve. I'm no longer only a consumer and a sponge. I see myself again…only I'm different now. Embracing the change, the journey, the growth.