“How long will it take?” I used to wonder in the first few days after my mom’s suicide, “How long will it take before I can’t remember what she said in our last phone call? How long will it take before I struggle to remember her smile, her laugh, her scent?”
When my mom died I wondered how it was possible that time continued to march on. I wanted the whole world to stop and grieve alongside me. All at once I wanted to be light years away from the trauma of her suicide and for time to stop so that I wouldn’t be so far away from the memory of her. My grief felt precious and fleeting. Some part of me knew that the heaviness of grief would lift one day and I feared that it would take the memory of her along with it.
For so many years my life revolved around my mom’s experience. Her presence defined my being. Even now I often reflect on how strange it is that she could have caused so much pain and given me all of the tools I would need to survive. In the beginning the heaviness of her absence was unbearable and I wanted to wrap myself in memories of her.
My mom was always searching...for joy, for hope, for compassion, for love. She related to children in a way she never could with adults. Maybe because they lay their cards on the table. She had a hard time separating her own experience from the experience of others which made her unusually sensitive and remarkably kind. Emotion washed over her and out in to the world, covering those closest to her and threatening to drown them. In the end, it did drown her. She killed herself. The words feel so true to me. Not because of her final act of suicide, but because she slowly, slowly, slowly killed herself.
In the beginning it felt as if she could walk back into my life at any moment. She had decided to leave this life, maybe all she had to do was decide to come back. We would cry, I would finally express all of my anger at what she did and we would move on, together.
It doesn’t feel that way anymore. So much has changed. In the years since she died I’ve gotten married, changed my address a few times and changed my dreams. I’m a mom now. I have a son, a beautiful little boy named August. I can no longer imagine my life with my mom in it. There are too many things I’ve discovered, too many people I’ve met, too many places I’ve seen. The shape of me has changed.
I was sure I was pregnant with a girl. A girl, I thought that might make me feel connected to my mom. A girl who I would name after her in some way. A girl who would restore the mother daughter connection I lost when my mom died. A girl that would give me an opportunity to break the cycle of abuse handed down from mother to daughter in my family.
But instead I got my boy. My sweet boy who loves to snuggle. My boy whose first words were mama, dada and, best of all, wow. A boy who is always covered in something...food, dirt or sand. My boy whose light has shone on parts of myself I didn’t know existed, whose presence has brought with it a lifetime of healing.
When August was born I longed for my mom. My grief reemerged fresh and stinging as I stumbled to find my footing in motherhood. I was sure that if my mom was with me I would feel more confident as I coped with the gigantic changes that come with motherhood. For the first time since the days after her death I felt sure I could not go on without her. I begged for a sign from her, yearned to feel her arms around me, ached for her to tell me that the anxiety would lessen, that the tears were normal, to reassure me that I was strong enough to provide love, safety and nuturing for my son.
As I’ve watched August grow from an infant to a toddler I’ve often wondered where my mom is. Part of me will be forever shocked that she will not know August and that he will not know her. I'm not sure how my mom and I's relationship would have been today had she lived, but I know she would have absolutely adored August. I’ve accepted that my mom is gone from my life, but I’m still learning to accept that she will not be a part of my son’s. It is a new loss, a new grief that I’m learning to make space for in my life.
Some days I wonder where she is over and over and over again. It was on one of those days that my husband, Loren, and I took August to the beach. It was his first time going to the ocean as a toddler.
Anxiety wrapped itself around my thoat as we arrived and August took off towards the waves. I took my cues from Loren, a man who I love for many reasons, but mostly because he never runs out of ways to tell me that everything is going to be alright. I reminded myself to breathe as August greeted the water and let the waves wash over his feet. His laughter exploded out of his body as the water knocked him down. He held our hands, but struggled against us because he wanted to go deeper and deeper into the water. I paused and thought how constant it is, the push and pull of parenting...the desire to let your child soar coupled with the overwhelming desire to keep them safe.
Tears came to my eyes as I watched him having an experience filled with joy and absent of fear. I prayed that I would see him like this again and again. That these parts of himself that are thriving and passionate will pulse through him like a heartbeat long after I'm gone. They are the parts that have nothing to do with me. I won't be able to create these parts, but I would do anything to protect them and I will teach him how to nurture them.
The muscles of my throat began to relax as I watched August point at a boat over and over again like he was seeing it for the first time. His happiness washed over me. I felt confident, strong and more in love than I ever thought possible. He was safe in his joy and unafraid. My fears didn't touch him. We were two separate people, a mother and a son, connected by deep love, but having different experiences.
I thought how much my mom would have loved the moment.
Tears came to my eyes as I realized.
“There you are. There you are, Mom. There you are.”